Tom Thibodeau's defense has never looked worse than it did against the Pacers

Ball Don't Lie

The Paul George-less Indiana Pacers shot 66.7 percent in a 130-107 win over the retooled Timberwolves in Minnesota on Tuesday, setting a single-game franchise record for field goal percentage and delivering the top shooting effort ever against a team coached by defensive guru Tom Thibodeau.

I’m not sure whether that says more about a Pacers team that was supposed to struggle after losing George or a Wolves squad that figured to be improved in year two under Thibodeau. Maybe it says as much about Indiana’s offense as it does Minnesota’s defense — the former is very good and the latter is very bad. Or maybe we’re four games into the NBA season, and water will eventually find its level.

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For now, though, the Pacers are fun, the Wolves are frustrating, and Jeff Teague has to be extremely confused by it all, having left Indiana for a three-year, $57 million deal from Minnesota this summer.

After the two teams played to a standstill at the break, the Pacers made 31-of-40 shots for a 77.5 field goal percentage and an 82.4 true shooting percentage in the second half, blowing the doors off a Wolves team aspiring to the playoffs. Let’s just say this strategy didn’t work so well for Minnesota:

Seriously, look at this second-half shot chart:

The Pacers shot better than 77 percent in the second half against the Timberwolves. (
The Pacers shot better than 77 percent in the second half against the Timberwolves. (

Obviously, shooting 100 percent on long 2-pointers isn’t a sustainable success story in today’s NBA, but that performance came against a team coached by Thibodeau, whose Chicago Bulls regularly ranked among the league’s best defenses and who served as an assistant on a championship Boston Celtics team that was equally stout on that end. This is good news for Indiana and bad for Minnesota.

Granted, the Wolves were without All-Star and All-Defensive wing Jimmy Butler, ruled out with an illness just prior to the game, but the Pacers were also missing their best player — Myles Turner, who remained in concussion protocol after suffering a blow to the head in their season-opening victory.

Teague scored two points on seven shots and added seven assists against three turnovers, while his replacement, 30-year-old journeyman Darren Collison, tallied 15 points on 11 shots and 16 assists (his highest total since 2010) with one turnover. And that’s just one of the evening’s many lopsided lines.

Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, Indiana’s much-maligned haul in the George trade, were spectacular. Oladipo scored a game-high 28 points for the second time in as many games, adding three assists, three rebounds and two steals. Sabonis submitted his second straight double-double, matching his season total in OKC as a rookie in 2016-17, and shot a perfect 7-for-7 from the field.

Cory Joseph, who the Pacers acquired in exchange for C.J. Miles, scored 21 points on 8-of-11 shooting off the bench. Free-agent addition Bojan Bogdanovic netted 19 points on 9-of-12 shooting. And rookie reserve T.J. Leaf added 11 points. Add them all together, with existing veterans Thaddeus Young and Al Jefferson, and suddenly the Pacers have a real-live, dare we say, Eastern Conference playoff rotation?

There’s no rest for the cheery, as Indiana will look for more of the same on Wednesday against George and his Thunder in Oklahoma City. George told reporters at Tuesday’s practice in OKC that while “things could have been done a lot better” on his end leading up to what was essentially a trade demand, he was still “emotional” about “handing the torch” to Turner “to take Indiana even further.”

George led the Pacers to back-to-back Eastern Conference finals appearances in 2013 and 2014, and Indiana has a ways to go to reach those heights again, but there’s no way he imagined they would be this explosive offensively so soon after his absence, not after complaining about his supporting cast for years. Obviously, it’s still extremely early in the season, but this is a somewhat remarkable stat:

Through four games, the Pacers’ 113.8 offensive rating and 56.1 effective field goal percentage both rank second only to the Golden State Warriors (117.1 and 59.1). Keep in mind, the Orlando Magic rank third on both of those lists right now, and the two teams Indiana scored a combined 270 points against — the Wolves and Brooklyn Nets — rank among the league’s five worst defenses. But still …

“They are playing a different game; playing a lot faster,” Teague told reporters after his old team trounced his new one on Tuesday night. “They have some guys that can run now, and that’s what they want to do. The name of the game is spread basketball. They spread us out. They shot lights out.”

Meanwhile, the Wolves were saying all the right things about their defensive woes. “That’s something we can’t do,” Andrew Wiggins said, via the Star-Tribune. Added fellow former Rookie of the Year and No. 1 overall pick Karl-Anthony Towns: “We can’t let anyone home or away take our spirit away.”

But we heard the same athlete-speak last year, when a Wolves team picked by many as a playoff sleeper finished 26th in defensive rating (109.1 points allowed per 100 possessions) and lost 51 games as a result. In a Western Conference stacked with offensive juggernauts, the Wolves will finish in the lottery again if they can’t solve the defense, and they can’t expect Butler’s return alone to fix it.

“We have to have a toughness to win,” Thibodeau told reporters after Tuesday’s embarrassment in Minnesota. “You’re down Jimmy, you can’t come out when you’re short-handed and think you’re just going to go out there and win without putting the work into it. … We have more than enough to win with, and so you can never underestimate how hard you have to play to win in this league.”

Wiggins, Towns and company have the athleticism to compete defensively, so maybe this latest shellacking will be the wakeup call they needed this season. Or maybe Minnesota’s defense is even worse than we thought. Or Indiana’s offense is better than we could’ve possibly imagined. It’s early.

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Ben Rohrbach is a contributor for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

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