Frank Vogel thought his team had addressed its biggest need. One of the reasons the Indiana Pacers lost to the Miami Heat in last year's Eastern Conference finals was a paper-thin set of reserves, so they acquired point guard C.J. Watson, forward Chris Copeland and, finally, power forward Luis Scola last offseason. Back at the end of July, the Pacers head coach was thrilled about the opportunity to work with “one of the smartest players that this league's ever seen,” per the Associated Press.
"The final piece to Larry Bird's overhaul of our bench, which was inconsistent, really, the past couple of years," Vogel said then. "He and I both believe very strongly in playing with depth and having a strong bench. Changes we made this summer are clearly going to bring an element to this team that we haven't had in the past."
Scola was meant to provide supplementary scoring; Watson, shooting and playmaking; Copeland, floor spacing. In addition to these reinforcements, Danny Granger would be back in Indiana's lineup. The forward wasn't expected to regain his All-Star form after all of his knee trouble, but he could be a solid sixth man. The idea was for the strengthened second unit to take some pressure off the starters.
It didn't work out. If Indiana comes up short against the Heat again, a lack of depth might be to blame. The Pacers had nine bench points in Tuesday's 87-83 Game 2 loss, and six of them came from Rasual Butler, a training-camp invite who wasn't even supposed to make the team.
The problems were evident early on. Skilled as he may be, at this stage of his career Scola compromises Indiana's defense and can't score efficiently enough to compensate. Copeland is deadly when left open for threes, but he never broke into the rotation because of his defensive deficiencies. Granger started the season later and slower than expected, and ended up being shipped away for swingman Evan Turner and big man Lavoy Allen at the trade deadline. Turner has been a disastrous fit, stopping ball movement and missing rotations, and Allen doesn't play. Watson is the only acquisition you could say has been even somewhat successful.
The Pacers were 29th in the league in bench scoring last season, averaging 24.1 points per game. This year, they were 28th, averaging 25.3 points per game. Vogel's starting five played more regular-season minutes than any other lineup in the league. In the playoffs, Indiana is getting demolished just about every time Turner or Scola check in. Turner's net rating is -16.7 points per 100 possessions, and Scola's is -11.4 per 100. Miami tied the series up on Tuesday by going on runs at the beginning of the second and fourth quarters, when some of the Pacers stars were resting.
To beat the Heat, Indiana doesn't need these guys to be great. It just needs them to contribute something. In Indiana's 107-96 Game 1 victory, Watson's 11 points were enough. Scola had two double-digit scoring games in each of the first two rounds. The first unit is going to carry the load, but it needs at least a little bit of help.