The Indiana Pacers have been struggling of late, having stumbled across the proverbial finish line.
In the last 25 games of the regular season, they posted the 16th best record in the NBA (12-13). Yet for all their struggles, you still had the feeling that come Playoff time they would find a way to right the ship. Apparently not.
The first game of the post season against the Atlanta Hawks in the 1 vs 8 match-up was an unmitigated disaster. They were beaten all ends up on their home-court, losing 101-93 at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse in a game where not a lot of things went right.
Unlike the team-oriented brand of basketball played by Atlanta, when Indiana had the ball, it just stuck in one player’s hands most of the time rather than rotating to the open man.
Lance Stephenson and Paul George, who are supposed to be the primary play-makers for the Pacers, were the main culprits and on several occasions the pair would over-do it and end up turning the ball over. Or just as worse, they would end up jacking up bad shots as the shot clock wound down.
That meant David West and Roy Hibbert were non-factors as they each scored just 8 points in the contest. Then again that was actually a good performance for Hibbert when consider how much he has struggled lately.
Take the final four games of the regular season for example. He played over 87 minutes worth of NBA basketball, yet he only managed to score a grand total of nine points. Failing to even register a single point despite despite attempting five shots and nine shots respectively in those outings.
That has really hit him hard mentally and he now appears to be distracted and disinterested during games, leading to him making ridiculous decisions. Case in point, shooting a three pointer with 10 seconds still left on the shot clock.
However what should be more worrying, for this series at least, is how much the Hawks have made him a non-factor on defense.
Atlanta’s front court combination of Pero Antic and Paul Millsap cause a dilemma for the Pacers defense because both players posses a shooting range which extends to the three point line, and they love utilizing that particular skillset. As the Center, Hibbert will be matched-up with Antic and will have to step out with him when he goes out to the perimeter. Meaning that Indiana’s 7’2” defensive anchor won't be able to utilize his height and shot blocking ability to protect the rim in addition to being out of his comfort zone.
That then creates ample room from Jeff Teague to do damage inside the lane thanks to his quickness, speed and ability to finish at the rim. That was the case in Game 1 and he burned them, dropping a Career Playoff high 28 points, 14 of which coming in the third quarter as the Hawks opened up a 16 point gap.
Then again, if he doesn’t step out, that gives Antic a 32percent (35percent on the road) three point shooter plenty of room to fire away from beyond the arc.
Come Game 2 on Tuesday night, Coach Frank Vogel will have to focus on getting the team to have better ball movement and involve Roy Hibbert, while figuring out a way to sure up the defense without exposing his All-Star Center.
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