Too many are trying to make all of the Indiana Pacers problems about Roy Hibbert playing badly, but head coach Frank Vogel and selfish players like Paul George and Lance Stephenson should be blamed as well. The Atlanta Hawks, with some great basketball from Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap and a red hot Kyle Korver, have taken a 2-1 lead in the series following their 98-85 win in game 3.
But Hibbert seems to be in the eye of the storm after another appalling performance. He scored 4 points on 2-of-9 from the field, grabbing only two rebounds and was benched for most of the second half, finishing with only 19 minutes. The anchor of this team’s excellent defense through the first four months of the season is a big reason in why they’re sinking so badly and looking nothing like the #1 team in the East we saw for most of the season.
Someone said Jeff Teague got lucky. Yes, he did have that 3-pointer while being pushed out of bounds that shouldn’t have been made. But that was only one small piece in a body of work that at the bottom of it all comes down to playing faster and smarter basketball than their rivals, the favorites. The Hawks have done some nice things on defense to surprise the Pacers, but it’s not that difficult when you think of how badly the Pacers have been moving the ball.
For the first time in this series we saw the Hawks pushing the tempo and getting into transition, outscoring the Pacers 20-11. Jeff Teague was excellent with 22 points and 10 assists, the first 20-10 game in these playoffs for points & assists. They found ways of getting Kyle Korver open again and again, resulting in 20 points from the sharpshooter. DeMarre Carroll, not someone they usually look towards for points, finishing with 18 and Paul Millsap continues to dominate against whoever the Pacers put in front of him: David West, Ian Manhimi or the sad looking Hibbert, finishing the game with 14 points and 14 rebounds.
The Hawks look like a team. There isn’t a deep bench, and the lineup isn’t the one that lead them to the top spot in the Eastern conference. But they have the balls in the right hands all the time, and they’re spotting weaknesses to attack, and are simply running well against a team that looks like its losing faith and belief in itself and what it can do in this series. Paul George should be their leader, and we though George is out of his weird phase, but everything came crashing down on Vogel’s head in game 3.
George shot 3-of-11 from the field. George Hill was awful with 1-of-11. David West had a solid game as always, and Lance Stephenson had the good fortunes of succeeding in his selfish style of basketball with 21 points and 13 rebounds, but it was bad, wrong basketball from the first moment until the very end. Luis Scola adding 17 points from the bench didn’t help, as too many people through it was on their shoulders to save the day and win the game.
Atlanta has been a difficult place for this Pacers team for quite some time, and that trend hasn’t gone away. But it’s not about that, not alone. The Pacers are a team that looks like a bad copy of the side that dominated the NBA earlier this season. The defense doesn’t move as well except for one quarter in game 2, and the offense just looks worse with every critical allow pulled at them. Roy Hibbert might be the worst of the bunch, but letting Paul George and Frank Vogel off the hook or neglecting to talk about how well the Hawks have been playing would be wrong.