The people who attended Sunday night's game between the Orlando Magic and the Indiana Pacers at Amway Center saw one of the best defenses in recent NBA history.
The Pacers entered the matchup ranked first in the league in defensive efficiency, holding opponents to 94.0 points per 100 possessions. According to the NBA's statistical database, that's the best defensive rating since the 2003-04 San Antonio Spurs limited teams to 91.6 points per 100 possessions.
"We work at it, and there's an emphasis on being great on the defensive end because we have that ability," Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. "We have defensive talent, but we also have guys that want to play defense, that really enjoy playing defense and that are capable. Put all those factors together, and you get what we have now."
Indiana's defense is anchored by 7-foot-2 center Roy Hibbert, who is one of the best rim protectors in the league. But the entire squad, including 6-foot-9 forwards David West and Paul George, has a blue-collar mentality.
Defensive efficiency is a better measure of a defense's performance than field-goal percentage defense because defensive efficiency takes into account opponents' 3-pointers and opponents' free throws.
The Pacers also led the league in defensive efficiency last season, limiting teams to 96.6 points per 100 possessions. That Pacers squad lost in the Eastern Conference finals in seven games.
"It seems like they've come back this year with a renewed and rejuvenated focus," Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said. "And that starts for them on the defensive end of the floor."
Just how dominant have these Pacers been?
The team with the second-best defensive efficiency rating this season is the Chicago Bulls, who had given up 4.3 points more per 100 possessions than the Pacers.
That's the largest gap between the first- and second-ranked defensive efficiency teams in any season this century, according to the NBA's statistical database. (The database doesn't list those statistics prior to the 2000-01 season.) Even the 2003-04 Spurs' defense was just 0.9 points per 100 possessions better than the second-ranked team, the Detroit Pistons.
Through Sunday, Indiana also led the league in field-goal percentage defense, holding teams to 41.4 percent shooting. The next-closest team was the Oklahoma City Thunder, who had held teams to 43.0 percent shooting.
That chasm of 1.6 percent is the largest gap in any season this century between the first- and second-best field-goal percentage defenses.
Of course, there is an important caveat to be made about Indiana's dominance relative to the rest of the league. The Pacers play the majority of their games against fellow Eastern Conference teams, and the East is the weakest it's been in years.
Still, the Pacers' defensive efficiency rating against Western Conference teams is 98.6 points per 100 possessions. That's the best rating in the league against West teams — 1.2 points better than the second-place team, the Thunder.
The Magic beat the Pacers 93-92, but Indiana held Orlando to 96.5 points per 100 possessions and to 41.0 percent shooting.
• Six days ago, the Magic lost to the Pacers 98-79 in Indianapolis. Before Sunday's game, Vogel told his players to expect a tougher challenge because the Magic play much better at home.
• Twenty-five members of the Central Florida Chapter of the University of Tennessee Alumni Association attended Sunday's game to root on Magic forward and former Tennessee Volunteer Tobias Harris.
firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog at OrlandoSentinel.com/magicblog and follow him on Twitter at @JoshuaBRobbins.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun