Kemba Walker probably wouldn’t view it this way, but the Indiana Pacers paid him the ultimate compliment Monday night.
If a team is willing to devote enough defensive resources to one player, any scorer can be neutralized. After four consecutive losses to the Charlotte Hornets, the Pacers were sick of being embarrassed by point guard Walker in the pick-and-roll.
Remember the Jordan Rules? These were the Walker Rules: Make sure quick, athletic center Myles Turner was in the game whenever Walker was. Show hard on the pick-and-roll, limiting Walker’s driving options. And when Walker does get to the rim, have measures ready to block his shot.
Such extreme defensive choices by Pacers coach Nate McMillan had to leave other Hornets open for jump shots. Unfortunately for the Hornets, Marvin Williams and Marco Belinelli were just about the only teammates of Walker’s who took advantage of those openings.
Those two were a combined 8-of-16 from the field. The Hornets as a team shot just 28-of-84 – 33 percent from the field – in a 110-94 loss at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Considering how well the Hornets have played of late against the Pacers – they blew out Indiana this season in a game in Charlotte – this looked like as good an opportunity as there would be on this five-game road trip.
Instead, the Pacers held All-Star candidate Walker to a season-low 12 points on 4-of-16 shooting.
Hornets coach Steve Clifford didn’t find what the Pacers did defensively all that exotic. What did concern him – and has in one way or another for weeks – is how well an opponent got up into the Hornets defensively to throw off their offensive rhythm.
Clifford said his players have to react better than that, and that is in part about matching opponents in physicality. Most of the Hornets are more about skill than muscle. They look to fool you more than thump you.
Beyond that, the Hornets need some of their core players to restore offensive confidence. Small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and reserve power forward Frank Kaminsky shot a combined 2-of-17 from the field. Plenty of those looks were open.
If Kaminsky and Kidd-Gilchrist don’t make open shots, it emboldens teams to continue the tactics that took Walker out of this game. He was short of his scoring average by more than 10 points Monday.
Kaminsky and Kidd-Gilchrist have been in offensive slumps of late. Kaminsky has failed to reach double-figure scoring in his past five games. In those five games, he shot 9-of-42 from the field. Kaminsky isn’t a good enough defender not to have impact offensively.
Kidd-Gilchrist is a fine defender, but as hard as he’s worked to be a better jump-shooter, the results are mixed at best. He scored 16 points in the blowout of the Orlando Magic, but in the other three most recent games, he totaled eight points on 2-of-17 shooting.
If you’re wondering why Belinelli is getting playing time over Kidd-Gilchrist in fourth quarters, there’s your answer. Playing four-on-five offensively down the stretch of a close game is no formula for success.