The 2021-22 Indiana Pacers were one of the worst teams in the NBA in crunch time ever. They played 45 games with “clutch time,” which the NBA defines as a game within five points and five minutes or less to go, and they went 11-34 in those games. They failed to stop tight fights and were unlucky at both ends of the court.
“Seriously,” Pacers center Myles Turner highlighted the Pacers’ clutch struggles over the past year while asked a question about this season’s team.
This year, the Pacers have a redesigned group. The front office redesigned the roster as of February last year, and the team is in a self-proclaimed “new era.” The rebuilt Pacers are doing something they absolutely couldn’t do last season – they’re winning tight games.
The blue-and-golds have already played 26 games involving clutch situations this season, which ranks third in the NBA. In those 26 games, the Pacers are 16-10, meaning they already have more wins in clutch situations than they did last season, even though the 2022-23 season is only half over. This 16-win number is also first in the league. With the game that year, Indiana was great.
“Just trust. Trust, trust, trust. There’s no ego in that locker room, something that can happen in a locker room and I think we’ve done a great job of nipping that in the bud,” Turner said of the Pacers’ late-game turnover from last season through this season.He made several big games on the stretch of Indiana’s last win.
“We’re keeping an eye on the price,” he added.
Last year, the Pacers were ranked 28th in offense with a 94.3 offensive rating. They couldn’t score goals or get good shots when the intensity of a game was ramped up.
This year that number is 117.7, good for fifth place in the NBA. Point guard Tyrese Haliburton did a fantastic job leading the show all the way through the game and is a big reason the blue and gold were better in late game situations.
“I feel like I have a little something to do with it,” he said with a smile when asked about the team’s improved late-game play. He leads the team in terms of usage rate and assist percentage in clutch time, and his efficiency numbers have gone up a lot lately – his clutch true shoot percentage is close to 60.
Others, like Turner, Buddy Hield, Bennedict Mathruin and Andrew Nembhard have all had their moments with big offensive plays in the clutch this season. Indiana has more shot creators than last year and that has made them more dynamic and harder to stop late in games.
Defensively, blue and gold have taken a step forward when the game hangs in the balance. In 2021-22 they placed 26th with a defensive rating of 114.4 in the clutch. As the game slowed down, they couldn’t stop anyone.
This year that number has risen to 101.8, good for seventh in the league. That may be unsustainably high for the Pacers, who have the defense ranked 18th in the league, but they have excelled in creep time on the less glamorous end of the parquet.
“This team is completely different. It has a totally different spirit and a totally different love for each other. And a completely different commitment to each other,” said Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle of his team’s clutch improvement year over year.
“You grow through the tough games,” he added.
The team has certainly grown in the clutch this season. By December 20, they were 9-9 in games involving clutch situations and had a net rating of -4.2 in the clutch. That’s still a lot better than 2021-22, but it’s closer to average.
Since then, they’ve gone 7-1 in games that have been within five points at one point in the last five minutes. They figured out how to finish games and it completely changed their season – the Pacers are 8-2 since December 20th.
“I think we just have a group of guys that are really connected. And on the track we’re just really together. I think the coach trusts me with the ball in my hands, trusts me to make games and this is important.” ‘ Haliburton said of the Pacers’ late-game success.
Clutch play occurs in such a small sample size that statistics can be imperfect and teams are vulnerable to variations in clutch effectiveness. The Phoenix Suns, for example, were fantastic late in the 2021-22 games and have made a massive step backwards this season.
It’s reasonable to assume that as a young team, the Pacers will endure some tough patches this season with their late-game execution. But this year the team has more confidence, better execution and spirit in tight games. That matters long-term, and the Pacers could become one of the NBA’s more dangerous teams in late-game situations as they continue to improve.
- Report: Myles Turner and Indiana Pacers open talks over contract extension CLICK HERE.
- Oshae Brissett’s contract was fully guaranteed and was not canceled by the Indiana Pacers before the guarantee period expired. CLICK HERE.
- Pacers guard Trevelin Queen on Tyrese Haliburton: “He’s just a great leader.” CLICK HERE.
- Pacers center Isaiah Jackson focuses on the simple things to stay engaged and be effective. CLICK HERE.
- Follow Allpacers on Facebook: All pacemakers SI
- Follow AllPacers on Twitter: @ SIPacer