Larry Bird disappointed in the Pacers’ defense, worries this group depends too much on Paul George

Coach Nate McMillan talks with Donnie Walsh and Larry Bird after a practice.

Larry Bird doesn’t make himself available often, especially when it comes to discussing the team on the court. He ensure the front office keeps things inside their offices on the Founder’s Level of Bankers Life Fieldhouse. He typically talks with local reporters before the season, at the mid-way point, and after the season in a formal season-in-review presser. Plus, after a staff change, like there was last spring, and occasionally to a reporter for a specific story.

Entering Monday’s home game against the Washington Wizards, the Pacers are average — 14-14 — with almost 35 percent of the season complete. And that’s enough of a sample size to evaluate the team, its strength and weaknesses.

In a Q&A with David Aldridge of NBA.com that was published on Monday, centered around Bird turning 60 years old on December 7th, Bird shared his observations of this year’s Pacers team, whose record slots them seventh in the Eastern Conference. Inconsistencies by the team have been obvious, but the rest of his comments were interesting.

[You can read the entire Q&A at this link.]

(Aldridge): Let me ask you about your team this year. I thought you guys would get a ton of deflections and runouts and lob and dunk on people. What are you seeing?

LB: I think one of our problems is we’ve got too many guys that like to pound the basketball. We do get deflections, we do get steals, but we don’t get a lot of fast break points. That’s where I thought we would get out and get, I was hoping for like 15 a game, maybe a little bit more. We’re not getting that. I always wanted to score between 103 and 105 points. The disappointing thing is on the defensive end. Giving up George Hill and letting (Ian) Mahinmi go, two of our better defenders, I knew we were going to struggle a little bit, but we’ve struggled more than I anticipated. And that’s hurt us. We’re not consistent. But we’ve got a nice little team and if we play well and we play together, we’ll win our share of the games. But we’re always going to be inconsistent, because of the fact that we don’t defend as well as I thought, and we’ve got too many guys that just want to dribble the basketball. That kills your offense. But they’re all good guys and they enjoy each, and Paul, since he came back from the injuries, has been phenomenal for us. I worry, too, that we depend too much on him. The guys sort of give in a little bit and go to him too much. But, when he’s got it going, you’ve got to ride him.

The first of three lines that stood out to me: “But we’ve got a nice little team and if we play well and we play together, we’ll win our share of the games.”

That’s very unlike the ultra-competitive Bird. It read to me like he was accepting that they would simply be mediocre this year.

He continued: “But we’re always going to be inconsistent, because of the fact that we don’t defend as well as I thought.”

The drop on the defensive end wasn’t unexpected after trading starting point guard George Hill, letting rim protector Ian Mahinmi, another start, go in free agency, and moving on from coach Frank Vogel. Those are three centerpieces that kept the Pacers a top three defensive team.

And this: “we’ve got too many guys that just want to dribble the basketball.”

Well, who is responsible for that? Responsible for reshaping the roster, which includes six new faces plus a new coach in Nate McMillan? He is, no?

More on Paul George, who is averaging a 21.8 points (1st on the team), 7.0 rebounds (2nd), 3.1 assists (3rd), and 1.86 steals (1st) per game:

LB: Well, the thing is, he defends every night. He’s a better defender than he is a scorer. But, in saying that, the one thing is that every night, he’ll guard you. A lot of guys, they don’t do that. But he will guard you. But he’s good. He’s a good player.

As I noted earlier, the primary purpose was to catch up with Bird after he turned 60. He mentions AlterG, an anti-gravity treadmill that the Pacers added to its weight room in the summer, several times.

LB: I do the AlterG and I walk a lot. My weights, I’m probably 10 to 15 pounds more than I want to be. I go, three months a year I go on this strict diet for a month and lose the pounds, stuff like that. But as far as movement, If I ain’t broke down, I try to run every day. I try to run AlterG and stuff like that. Just like today, I’ll go down there. I was up to 3½ miles; now I’m at 2½. I’m working back up to three. There’s a limit for me. I try to stay active, keep moving. I always heard people say, as they get older, they always say you’ve got to keep moving. I believe that.

Me: As much as you ran, did you ever have shin splints?

LB: No. The only thing that ever bothered me, especially back home, was my back would get real tight. I ran a lot. Even in the summer, I’d wake up in the morning and the first thing I’d do was 2½ miles to get loose, just to start my other training. I always ran, always felt good doing it. It really wasn’t a big deal for me. But now that I can’t do it, you miss something, you know?

There’s no doubt about that. It’s not easy getting started on a run, but once completed it feels great. The Pacers hope to pick up the pace and find some consistency while on this marathon 2016-17 NBA season.

3 Responses to Larry Bird disappointed in the Pacers’ defense, worries this group depends too much on Paul George
  1. JOHN COSBY
    December 20, 2016 | 7:55 am

    I have watched most of the games this year because i think that Paul George and Miles Turner are one of the best 1-2 punch in the NBA. The pacers have had a lot of injuries and this hurts in new players being able to fit together as a unit (TEAM). But to be honest Larry you need to look at how Nate handles his subs. I know of at least 4 games he takes George and Turner both out in the #rd quarter at around 3 minutes to go. I have seen leads vanish and the other team take the lead and he will leave these 2 sitting on the bench watching until the are 8 or 10 down, kinda stupid when you figure you have 2 all stars sitting and watching the team lose. I would never bench the 2 together as one needs to be on the floor at all times. Just check out what I have told you and also they don’t know how to play man to man defense either. They are terrible at times letting their man take open shots…another stupid. I would love to go coach defense for a couple of weeks and show them how as the replays would show what I am talking about.
    Thanks for the chance. John

    • Scott Agness
      December 20, 2016 | 10:04 am

      John,
      Substitutions have been an issue, at times, over the last several years. The coach’s goal there is to find the window that allows its key players to maximize their rest. McMillan has experimented sitting them at the end of the first, for example, and also playing through it.

      As far as the team defense, that, too, is a work-in-progress. It was a challenge early on because guys were in and out of the lineup. If all healthy, I still don’t believe this is a top 15 defensive team – which is still a huge drop off what what we were used to under Vogel, where they were consistently a top three defense.

      Inconsistency has become the theme of the team.

  2. JOHN COSBY
    December 22, 2016 | 9:30 am

    yes I too agree that the Pacers jumped the gun of Frank but we
    don’t know what was said between larry and Frank. Maybe Frank did no follow through as I thought he was not tough enough at times on the players. When you are playing badly you don’t need a pat on your back but a kick to your a…
    We will see in time about Nate but I don’t think much of him as a coach.
    Thanks
    john

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