The matchup with the Pacers was going to come down to the power forward matchup. It always was.
On one end, the Magic would need Anderson’s ability to space the floor and make 3-pointers to keep Indiana’s bigs out of the paint and create space for pick and rolls. On the other end, the Pacers would need to take advantage of their size and Anderson’s still-improving defense to get easy points and possibly take Anderson out of the game.
Undoubtedly, the Pacers have won that part of the series so far.
“It’s difficult. [Anderson has] got to guard one of them,” Stan Van Gundy said before Game Four. “He’s not so much outsized with West, West is just stronger and a hell of a player and a veteran guy. Sometimes because of the year Ryan has had, he is a young guy and this is his first real significant role in a playoff series and he is up against a very good veteran power forward. I don’t think he has ever before been the focus of someone’s defensive gameplan the way he is now.
“There are a lot of things that have made this a difficult series on him. I think it’s a great learning experience for him and he has got to make some adjustments pretty quickly. It is a concern, but it is not an overwhelming concern.”
Anderson continues to struggle in the postseason, averaging 8.5 points per game while shooting 32.3 percent from the floor and 38.1 percent from beyond the arc. Those are career highs for Anderson in his three postseasons with the Magic. But they are well below the 16.1 points per game, 43.9 percent shooting and 39.3 percent 3-point shooting he put up in the regular season to win the Most Improved Player Award.
That does not get into the advanced stats to really show the work David West and the Pacers have done knocking Anderson out of this series.
Anderson’s PER dropped from a regular season mark of 21.2 to 7.4 in the postseason (a 65.1 percent decrease) and his win shares per 48 minutes is 0.037, down from 0.219 in the regular season. Worse still, Anderson’s 7.7 rebounds per game from the regular season are down to 4.8.
These Playoff struggles are not new. Last season, playing in 24.5 minutes per game, averaged 4.7 points per game on 30.0 percent shooting from beyond the arc.
No doubt, West and the Pacers have taken Anderson out of this series, in a very bad way for the Magic.
“[We just have to keep] battling and fighting and just committing to the defensive end and rebounding,” Anderson said of what the Magic need to do to climb out of this 3-1 deficit. “I think we can all do a better job. I can defintiely do a better job on the rebounding area. I think it really just comes down to energy for us and how much we’re willing to make their defense work. If we go on runs, we’re a team that can go on big runs and so are they, but we just have to keep matching it.”
Anderson certainly knows the responsibility and his role on the team. He has to spread the floor and find ways to get open. He did a better job of it in Game Four, scoring a series-high tying 11 points. Even when he was not getting the ball for a shot — he hit three of his six 3-pointers in the game — it seemed like he was getting some more space on his rolls. It was not much more. Indiana is still incredibly disciplined on staying with Anderson and keeping a body on him to prevent him from getting open shots. In any case, the Pacers still rotate out to him pretty quickly.
The Pacers have made it clear that limiting Anderson is a priority.
It then might have been noteworthy that Orlando’s most effective lineup in Game Four, the one that erased the 19-point deficit and charged the comeback, was a small lineup that featured J.J. Redick in at shooting guard and Hedo Turkoglu at power forward. Most notably, that put Anderson on the bench.
But Orlando is not going to change the way it plays with Anderson ineffective. Stan Van Gundy has faith that Anderson can regain his form from the regular season, provided he and his teammates can get him the same kind of open looks. That part is not going to be as easy. It has not happened in four games.
This is how this team is built. And it is missing its biggest component in this series (like that needs more reminding). The Magic built a system for the players they have not on some overarching philosophy.
“It’s a function of who we have and you try to build a system around those guys,” Van Gundy said. “If you have Dwight Howard that you are building your team around, then one of the obvious things with a big guy is get as much shooting around him as you can. And certainly Otis has tried to do that. And we had Rashard [Lewis] and then we trade for a guy like Ryan. And then those guys get the opportunities for those shots because of what is going on in your post up game and what is going on in your pick and roll game.
“Now those opportunities for Ryan are not really there. It happened to Rashard a little bit in the Boston series a couple years ago because Boston could play [Kendrick] Perkins on Dwight one on one. Those opportunities for Rashard largely disappeared. It’s the same thing here now because of the size difference inside, their defense is not having to suck in and the opportunity is not there as much.”
Lewis, as a reminder, averaged only 8.2 points per game and shot 4 for 23 from beyond the arc (an icy 17.4 percent). That was all because of how solidly Boston could defend Howard in the post and how good the perimeter defenders were at keeping the Magic out of the paint.
It has felt like the Pacers are doing the same thing to Ryan Anderson in this series.
With his free agency impending — it is not a slam dunk that Orlando will match whatever offer Anderson gets, although it feels likely — this series will not likely decrease his value too much. The body of work he put in during the regular season and the fact he is just 23 will make him a highly sought after free agent. But, Orlando is not getting all it needs from Anderson.
Once again, the Playoffs have proven to be a struggle for Anderson.