When the Pacers put together the monster run to win Game 2 using their top-ranked defense, it was worth noting just how much the offense was continuing to struggle, which made you wonder if that was something that the team would be able to fix in time to win on the road and claim a lead in this series.
In Game 3 in Atlanta, the answer was a resounding no.
Paul George had early foul trouble that caused him to lose any sense of rhythm offensively, and Roy Hibbert was so ineffective on both ends of the floor that he was benched for the entire fourth quarter. The result was the Hawks pulling away for a 98-85 Game 2 victory that sent Indiana to a 2-1 series deficit.
“We’ve got to do a better job creating shots for ourselves,” Pacers head coach Frank Vogel said afterward, in making the most obvious of statements.
Make no mistake — the Pacers didn’t get here on the strength of their offense, which was ranked just 22nd in the league in terms of points per 100 possessions. But throughout the season, George was consistently able to string together solid performances, which were enough to keep the Pacers in it when their defense did the job.
But Indiana’s defense is no longer as formidable as it once was. The Hawks present matchup problems that the Pacers are still struggling to deal with three games into this series, with Jeff Teague’s quickness being at the top of that list. More importantly, Indiana hasn’t at all been able to stop Atlanta from doing what it’s done all season long, which is shoot a high volume of three-pointers and make a high percentage of its free throws.
The Hawks were second in the league during the regular season in three-pointers attempted per game with 25.8, and killed the Pacers from distance in this one by shooting 12-of-34 from three-point distance. Not a great percentage, but the ones that went down were huge, and the offense is predicated on outside shooting. When defenses start to key on it, the speed of Teague and his ability to get into the paint to create shots for himself and his teammates ends up causing rotation nightmares, as partially evidenced by Atlanta getting to the free throw line a whopping 37 times.
Hibbert is supposed to be the team’s anchor defensively, but the Pacers don’t need a rim protector on the floor if their defense is going to willingly allow the Hawks to take so many open threes. His ineffectiveness (four points, two rebounds, zero blocked shots, 2-of-9 shooting) caused Vogel to finally realize it, and he played Hibbert just under 19 minutes in total, only 6:30 of which came in the second half.
Despite Hibbert’s troubles and the Pacers’ desperate stance in the series, Vogel wasn’t ready to abandon his center just yet. But he did acknowledge that he would at least consider the possibility.
“We’ll look at everything,” Vogel said, when asked if he might take Hibbert out of the starting lineup. “We can’t say that right now. But I have great confidence in Roy Hibbert.”
Asked why he wouldn’t make the change given the circumstances, Vogel went with the bulk of the season’s work as the reason rather than the most recent developments.
“We won 56 games with him as our starter,” Vogel said. “That’s the simplest answer.”
But when pressed as to whether Hibbert will start in Game 4, he left the door open for a change to be made.
“We’ll see,” he said. “Probably.”
Whether Hibbert starts or he doesn’t is of little consequence. Indiana’s offense remains a disaster from a team standpoint, with careless passes leading to needless turnovers, or things devolving into forced isolation sets in the worst possible moments.
If that continues, it won’t matter whether Hibbert plays or he doesn’t, because this series will end in the Hawks’ favor before Indiana is able to make any truly impactful personnel decisions.