Since the overall series has been ably previewed by Matt, Tom Lewis and others, I'm going to use the first game preview to focus specifically on likely strategies and what's changed for the Pacers since our last game. After all, we know what's going on with the Bulls, but how will the Pacers approach the game? As I said back in my mid-March game preview my overall impression of the Pacers is that while they're average to above at every position, they're lacking in stars and don't quite have the killer cohesiveness (or individual talent) to really match up well with anyone.
Of course, the Pacers played hard, promptly demolished my prediction, and squeaked by the Bulls. That game more or less shows the formula for the Pacers to beat the Bulls. In that game, Derrick scored at will, but no other Bull could get it going (in fairness, no Boozer). Offensively, this game, like most Pacers victories, centered around getting one of their bigs (Hansbrough or Hibbert) going off really well. That night, it was Hansbrough for 29 and 12. The Pacers absolutely need this sort of big man scoring because otherwise they tend to be a collection of guys who stand around and shoot from distance without much accuracy or organization. Hence their poor offensive numbers.
Offensively, the Pacers will have a hard time with this because teams have figured out, to a large extent, that Hibbert can be goaded into bad fouls and Hansbrough can be guarded because he passes, literally, as often as Eddy Curry. He's gotten slightly better at passing off instead of diving headlong, pump-faking into the basket at every opportunity, but his mind is usually pretty made up when the ball touches his hands. Front him, don't bite on the fakes, and he'll force up a bad shot.Beyond their bigs, they'll have Mike Dunleavy back, which doesn't sound like a lot, but he's finally recovered enough from his injuries of a couple years ago to be dangerous as a shooter again. Importantly, he's a guy who's experienced and disciplined enough to wait for the right shot, which sets him apart from their younger guys, and Dunleavy replacement Brandon Rush. Still, this is a pretty marginal upgrade.
Defensively, I can see the basic strategy they employed against the Bulls in the past working, but it'll be harder because we've got Boozer back, and we'll pick and roll, roll, rollem. Despite being a good defensive team, the most of the main Pacers players - Hibbert, Hansbrough, McRoberts, Collison, George, have significantly less experience, and especially big game experience than the Bulls. They generally play hard, but they haven't had anything remotely like the Thibs mentality ground into them, with respect to both playing like their uniforms are on fire and having intensely practiced a complex team defense.
So the Pacers keys to the game are:
1. Offensively- get the bigs going.
2. Defensively- Defend the pick and roll and everyone else, let Derrick get tired.
I know this sounds really simplistic, but just remember that it's no different than what Vinny Del Negro actually used to tell the Bulls. Thank God that's over, right? For the Pacers, just because an approach is simple doesn't mean it's wrong. Sometimes simple is right, just very hard to do. And, simple is easier than complex, especially for a young team without much experience. Also, I've scoured the Pacers world over the past couple days, and have read absolutely nothing else from the guys actually on the Pacers. There's no hidden plan to suddenly unleash, they've just got to come out and play hard.
To quote the great Kenny Loggins, "This is it!"