C.J. Watson: A “Winning Play Guy”
When C.J. Watson pulled up for his first fourth quarter shot, the Wizards had scored six quick points to cut the Pacer lead to 10 points with 10 minutes remaining. As the attempt drew net, it provided a little relief for the Pacer faithful who’d watched Indiana fritter away similar leads in wins against Cleveland and Toronto.
Little did anyone know that it was merely the first salvo in a 19-7 Pacer run that would put away the game. Or that it was the first two points of Watson’s 11-point fourth quarter that featured a perfect 4-for-4 shooting performance, as well as two assists.
But perhaps we should have suspected.
That pretty piece of shot chart is C.J.’s fourth quarter shooting this season. C.J. is connecting on almost 49% of his attempts in fourth quarters this year, including 45% from beyond the arc. That makes for a jaw-dropping .611 eFG%. He’s doing this while dishing 25 assists and making 11 steals against only 9 turnovers. “A huge lift,” Pacer Coach Frank Vogel said when asked what Watson provides in the fourth quarter. “Our starters come in and punch you in third quarters, and our bench guys come in and give a counter punch. Can’t say enough about C.J.”
David West credited Watson’s ability to stay within himself without being hesitant. “If the shot is there, he takes it,” West said. “Particularly in fourth quarters. He knows we’ve got opportunities to win games. He just makes winning plays.
“He’s a ‘winning play guy’.”
Clearly, the Pacers welcome this development. Last year, the story wasn’t so cheery. Dominant while George Hill manned the point, Indiana became a net negative team when D.J. Augustin took the floor. The offense struggled, managing only 97 points per hundred with the diminutive Texas product on the floor, posting a net efficiency of -1.1 points per 100. Fourth quarters were even worse, as opponents were outscoring the Pacers by more than 4 points per hundred while D.J. ran the team.
But this year, the success continues when C.J. comes on the floor. The bench offense, overall, remains a substandard 99 points per 100, but the defense is stellar, allowing the Pacers to outscore their opponents by more than 8 points per hundred.
Much of the continuity may be traced back to the similarities between Watson’s game and that of the player he backs up – George Hill. “It just gives the team balance,” Hill said when asked about the situation. “We’re (Hill and Watson) two guys who don’t have to have the ball in their hands to be effective. We’re two guys who can play defense. We’re going to sacrifice. Make the right pass. Even though we may have shots, we pass up shot to get better ones. I think that’s what’s been the balance of this team – we let egos go.”
And nowhere has that balance been more apparent than in fourth quarters. Rather than the -4.2/100 net efficiency the Pacers struggled through last season, the Watson-led fourth quarter offense is scoring over 108 points per hundred…over 20 points per hundred more than they are allowing opponents to score in the final stanza. Watson, along with Luis Scola (shooting over 52% in fourth quarters this year), have transformed the bench and made fourth quarters much more successful for Indiana.
“They’re closers,” said Paul George of Watson and Scola. “It’s good to have closers on our bench. We don’t miss a beat with those guys on the floor. They know how to put games away.”
“(C.J.) is a high I.Q. guy,” West explained. “He’s one of those guys, that you’re just happy to have on your team. He’s one of the guys we count on to carry part of the load for this group.”
And for a team with championship aspirations, Watson has certainly been carrying his fair share of the load.