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SALT LAKE CITY — One of sports’ oldest adages is that offense wins games but defense wins championships.
There is no team in the NBA that has adopted that adage as truth more than the Indiana Pacers. Indiana, which has a league-best 17-2 record, held the Utah Jazz to 38 points in the second half and forced Utah to commit 14 turnovers — all part of a 95-86 Pacers victory.
However, what about Indiana makes the Pacers such a great defensive team?
In the mind of Indiana coach Frank Vogel, it starts with having players who can respond to stresses of playing defense — something that Utah’s roster hasn’t proven it can do consistently to this point.
“Step number one (in building a defensive culture) is getting good defensive players,” Vogel said. “Our starting five are all exceptional at guarding their own position. We’ve got athleticism and foot speed, and it starts there.
“If you don’t have that, it’s going to be a struggle.”
Utah held the Pacers to only 17 first-quarter points as Indiana shot only 33.3 percent from the field in the quarter and made no 3-point shots on five attempts.
Utah Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said the team played well early but wore down late due to foul trouble and inexperience.
“We just had us a good ball club we played against and we’ve got to have everybody play pretty high and our best as a team,” Corbin said. “Second quarter I thought we lost our rhythm a little bit and the second half we hung in there a little bit, just couldn’t get the big runs (against Indiana).”
Several Jazz players mentioned Indiana’s defensive strengths in their postgame comments, and noted Utah could certainly benefit from adopting several of their strategies.
Forward/center Derrick Favors said Indiana’s intensity should be the envy of the NBA.
“Their aggressiveness, and how physical they are on the wings — both are physical and aggressive,” said Favors, who finished the night with 22 points and 13 rebounds on 18 shot attempts. “They play defense as a team; that’s all we can learn.”
Despite being outscored 27-19 in the fourth quarter, the Jazz did have several highlights. One came in the form of a 10-2 run to open the ballgame, which Trey Burke insisted shows the team is improving defensively.
“We’ve improved tremendously on defense, and I think that’s why we’ve been able to get a couple wins in the last week,” Burke said. “We just have to continue to get better. There are always areas of improvement, and we’re looking forward to it.”
Indiana native Gordon Hayward was quick to note that the Pacers dictate their opponents’ shot selection.
“Their defense is pretty solid, top to bottom,” said Hayward, who scored 12 points on a 3 of 14 shooting performance. “They always are rotating and they challenge shots at the rim so you don’t get very many wide-open layups."
Utah shot just 38.2 percent in the second half, compared to Indiana’s 52.4 percent — something Corbin attributed to Indiana’s focus on defense.
“I thought their defense got aggressive,” he said. “We got a little stagnant a little bit. They pushed us off our spots a little bit. It’s a good defensive team.”