Originally Published: December 1, 2013

1. Pacers Win Behind Their Firm Convictions

By Kevin Arnovitz | ESPN.com

LOS ANGELES -- Three times on Sunday afternoon, Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan went airborne to catch a floating lob from Chris Paul, then ravaged the rim to consummate the alley-oop.

The Indiana Pacers never called timeout to quell the momentum or the invigorated Staples Center crowd. They price plays like these into the game, so they shrugged it off and moved on.

"We're not going to be able to take that lob away," Pacers small forward Paul George said. "It's part of their team's whole motto. It's something we have to give up. We're not going to give up 3s. We're not going to let their shooters get hot. We're going to do a good job of staying home and protecting the paint."

Paul George
Noah Graham/Getty ImagesPaul George's 27 points helped improved Indy's best start in franchise history to 16-1.

The way the Pacers see it, these moments are emotional boosts for your opponent only if you let them be. Indiana happily yielded a few style points to the Clippers in exchange for a 105-100 win, its 16th victory in 17 outings out of the gate.

The starting unit was typically stingy, giving up only 45 points on 50 possessions. George, Roy Hibbert, David West, Lance Stephenson and George Hill are the league's best defensive high-usage lineup -- and over the past two seasons have established the most dominant defense since the halcyon days of the Celtics' new Big Three.

That's why Pacers coach Frank Vogel never considered implementing Hack-a-DeAndre when the Clippers staged a comeback in the fourth quarter.

"We're the best defense in the world," Vogel said. "We trust our ability to get stops."

When a defense has convictions, it doesn't need gimmicks. When guarding the half court, the Pacers are essentially error-free. Snipers like Clippers' supersub Jamal Crawford are rarely left unaccounted for in transition. On the off chance the opponent finds a good shot against the Pacers, it's usually an unforced error. Indiana leverages Hibbert's presence inside by smothering the perimeter. For some teams, playing up and closing hard on shooters presents the risk of a blow-by, but Hibbert is the league's best insurance policy.

"I tell the guys, if they get beat, I'll be there to clean it up," Hibbert said.

It's a style more in line with vintage Spurs' defenses and Stan Van Gundy's Magic teams built around Dwight Howard. The Pacers avoid rotations at all costs -- alley-oops be damned -- and deploy their length to patrol the gaps and to close mercilessly, a strategy made easier when a 7-foot-2 rim protector with razor-sharp instincts lies in wait.

Prior to the game, Clippers coach Doc Rivers characterized the Pacers as a team that's "over themselves." Egos have been sublimated for a larger good, and the result has been the kind of tranquility that generally surrounds only the best, most self-possessed teams. The offense still needs to prove it can run efficiently for long stretches, but the Pacers have the texture of a contender.

The Pacers are still fundamentally a deliberate, work-for-a-shot squad that ranks just about league average in offensive efficiency. Given where the league's strategic leanings are right now -- stretchier personnel with offenses more inclined to find shots on the perimeter rather than touches inside -- the Pacers' brand of paintball is unique. They like to pair a post feed into West with a perimeter action like a flare screen or a pindown on the weak side.

Meanwhile, George is now an electric current that can grab hold of a game. He has grown infinitely more comfortable working with screens both on and off the ball to hunt a shot at spots he likes. He led all scorers with 27 points (10-for-13 from the floor, 3-for-3 from the line), and staged a fun mano-a-mano sequence with Paul at the conclusion of the first half. George hit a jumper while falling to his left for an and-1, so Paul answered with a twisting layup after beating Hill off the dribble. Paul delivered one of the aforementioned alley-oops to Jordan, so George pulled up for a 3-pointer off a high screen.

The Clippers now head east for a seven-game, 11-day slog without J.J. Redick, who will be sidelined for six to eight weeks with a tear of his right ulnar collateral ligament after taking a spill at Sacramento on Friday. It's an enormous blow for a team that's designed an offense predicated on Redick's motion in the half court.

"Almost every action we run had something to do with him moving," Rivers said prior to the game.

In his first season in the NBA as a full-time starter, Redick leads the Clippers' regulars in plus-minus, and his 18.46 Player Efficiency Rating (PER) shatters his previous best two seasons ago. He's one of the league's most effective decongestants, and that constant motion helped elevate the Clippers' offense over the first 17 games of the season to one of the league's most attractive.

Willie Green will start in Redick's absence. Professional is the most common attribute assigned to Green by his teammates and the Clippers' staff. But no matter how buttoned-up his manner, the Clippers can't throttle the offense and run the defense ragged with Green, who demands only a fraction of the attention Redick does in the half court. Stephenson was the weakside rover all afternoon against a Clippers' starting unit that couldn't find a lot of quality looks in their possession offense. Very little of that can be laid at Green's heavier feet, but the Clippers' most efficient output came from their reserves.

The Clippers roared back from a 14-point deficit on Sunday and didn't play poorly under the circumstances. Unfortunately, the Western Conference isn't forgiving of circumstance. A lengthy stretch of .500 ball could drop a team to the No. 5 or 6 seed -- far below what the Clippers expected of themselves.

Dimes past: November 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28

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