Andrew Bynum was going to have the chance to give Philadelphia 76ers fans something they never received in 2012-13; his service on the hardwood.
That was before, however, Indiana Pacers’ staff collectively decided to keep their best backup center away from Friday night’s action.
Bynum debuted on Tuesday, causing damage against the Boston Celtics and their under-equipped front court headlined by Jared Sullinger. Scoring eight points on 3-of-4 shooting and collecting 10 rebounds, Bynum certainly drew chatter as to how increasingly difficult that February 1 signing has become – after only 16 minutes of action.
He would have to put a hold on the boo-fest that’s inevitable when he steps back into Wells Fargo Center, playing against a team he made a hilarious commitment to, and sat out all 82 games last season.
Instead, Frank Vogel’s Pacers would have two backup centers available to use for Friday’s showing against the 76ers; Lavoy Allen and Ian Mahinmi.
Allen, who played in just three of his first nine games since joining the Pacers via trade, surprisingly topped Bynum’s overhyped performance by leading Indiana in bench scoring during Friday’s victory.
The Pacers nearly choked away a comfortable 17-point advantage they earned at one point, but was able to down the D-league level 76ers, giving Brett Brown’s squad their 19th straight loss. No need to look through the schedule, it’s not a mistake. 19 consecutive games — beginning on January 31 — have been losses for the franchise most guilty of “tanking.” Allen played about as solid offensively as you can ask out of a frontcourt talent deep on your bench, scoring 13 points (leading all Pacers’ bench members) and converting on all six of his field goal attempts.
Of all the reasons Vogel likely decided to rest Mahinmi despite the Frenchman being laced up and available, healing a bruised left rib became a perfect opportunity for Allen to showcase his abilities. Growing up in the Philadelphia area and attending Temple University — in the heart of Philly — it couldn’t have felt more gratifying tying his season-high in front of familiar faces.
The 76ers never obtained a lead throughout the night, allowing Indiana to take a 101-94 victory in the midst of the Miami Heat dropping another unexpected game to Brian Shaw‘s Nuggets.
Indiana excelled in the first and third quarters, outscoring Philadelphia 53-41 in the two periods and shining on both ends of the basketball. Paul George, who appeared to get into one of his occasional shooting grooves from the perimeter early in the game, hurt the 76ers in the third by scoring 13 of his 25 total points. When George erupts with a hot touch from the outside, it’s becoming hard to get excited. That’s because the word “consistency” hasn’t been in his vocabulary since the calendar struck 2014.
The most glaring example of late has been the start of March, after George came up with a standout performance in Boston (27 points and 8 rebounds on 10-of-21 shooting). Following that win, he responded by shooting 14-of-48 (29.3 percent) in his next three games, which included a 2-point performance in Charlotte. The tendency to make head-scratching offensive decisions and inability to put together a consistent stretch is the separator between George and the NBA’s small category of brutes (LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony).
Offensive execution in Philadelphia and knocking down 4-of-7 shots from 3-point range was more than enough to get the job done, but the flame needs to carry over for the remainder of March. It’s also slightly diminished in the sense that it was against the worst defense I’ve witnessed in my lifetime, with Philadelphia allowing 114.2 points per game during their 19-game drought.
Luis Scola, who scored eight of his nine points in the second quarter alone (leading the Pacers), decided to show up for the second straight game off the bench. Despite coming up with a 0-of-3, 1-point outing at Dallas last Sunday, Scola has quietly played his best month in terms of efficiency, shooting 56.1 percent from the floor during March. Scola’s last two appearances have given the impression that he’s been rattled with the team’s recent struggle since integrating Evan Turner into the bench mix, and he’s picked his spots nicely by shooting 7-of-10 while actively getting to the free throw line.
One of the most complete possessions took place in the opening minutes of the second quarter, which featured terrific rim-protection defense and fast break conversion by the bench. When you break down Indiana’s bench, you don’t see an awful lot of offensive firepower, but instead, it’s a combination of guys that are above average – not star-level – at different aspects of the game. Allen, who is slightly undersized for the center position, makes a great effort to block Tony Wroten‘s wild layup attempt in traffic to turn the play into a fast break.
Turner, who has been called upon to relieve minutes at the point guard position due to C.J Watson’s absence (elbow and strained hamstring), fights to collect the loose ball and then sparks a fast break with Scola and Allen. Dishing the ball off to Scola using a leading bounce pass, Indiana was able to come through on both ends of the floor and, this time, it didn’t have to come from a member of the starting lineup. Turner is an underrated passer (in my book), and while “making the right basketball play” is sometimes not the result you get out of his play, you can fully expect to see him play with strong discipline when April rolls around. Why? There’s actually something to play for in Indiana, and the little things are going to matter. It’s definitely opposed to his time in Philadelphia, where even being the offensive catalyst and having the best night of your season couldn’t guarantee a victory, more less a playoff berth.
The Pacers’ decision to keep Bynum on a light schedule in terms of game action is absolutely the right approach. With the state of the Eastern Conference the worst it’s been in recent memory and bottom-feeders being thrown in your schedule for a good chunk of March, why risk anything when you know Bynum isn’t quite up to game shape? Yes, blast him all you want for taking those long weeks off his training schedule when dismissed from Cleveland, but as a team, coping with each other’s mistakes is what Indiana will have to do in order to gain full chemistry with the new additions they’ve made.
The Pacers are 48-17, and three games up on Miami for the one seed in the conference. With 17 games remaining on the schedule, the key is to keep Bynum — Indiana’s second unit deal-breaker for the Conference Finals — in top condition, while also getting him familiar with the play-style. The best way to do that is to let him have his shining moments on some nights, but not press the issue. Vogel remembers he has Mahinmi as well, and he’s been nothing short of serviceable in March.
Indiana takes on the Detroit Pistons Saturday at the Palace of Auburn Hills, where they knocked off Detroit 99-91 in the fourth game of the regular season. Bynum will receive minutes after sitting out against his former team, and if his second appearance is anything related to his debut …. the conference battle will be closing for LeBron James and the defending champions.
Shane Young is an NBA credentialed writer for ESPN TrueHoops’ 8pt9secs and HoopsHabit.com. For all Indiana Pacers, Los Angeles Lakers, or general NBA coverage, follow @YoungNBA and @HoopsHabit on Twitter.