The theory that things will magically get better once the playoffs begin for the Indiana Pacers was proven wrong by the surprising Atlanta Hawks and especially Jeff Teague, leading the #8 seed in the East to a 101-93 win in game 1 to take away home court advantage.
Teague did what others have realized over the last couple of months: Roy Hibbert is slumping, which makes the entire Pacers defense, ranked #1 in the league, very easy to score against. Teague finished with 28 points, 20 of them coming on drives to the basket, almost four times Teague’s average during the regular season. He added five assists and finished with 9-of-10 from the line, but the bottom line was not having any problem getting into the paint or into good scoring positions.
The Pacers were able to hang on until the third quarter while their individual moves on offense worked. Paul George has the talent to make it work and so does Lance Stephenson, but building on one on one moves to carry you through isn’t such a smart idea. When the defense doesn’t work as planned, everything falls apart. The Hawks went on a 30-16 third quarter, as 12 of those points came inside the paint, usually when Hibbert was on the floor.
Hibbert finished with 8 points and 8 rebounds, but don’t let that fool you. He had only two points going into the fourth quarter, and is still looking for his first field goal from outside the paint since April 4. Everyone seems to be a body language expert these days to try and explain what’s going on with a center that looked like a pretty solid pick for Defensive Player of the year halfway through the season. He’s simply playing bad, and it has nothing to do with schemes or x’s & o’s.
The Pacers actually shots reasonably well from the field – 42.9%, which usually doesn’t hurt their chances of winning. Paul George was only 6-of-18, but they’ve seen him put up those numbers before and still win games. The problem was handling the Hawks’ offense, as Teague kept breaking things apart before either finishing himself from up close with no one to get in his face or finding players for open 3’s.
The Hawks have a starting five that all of them are good to excellent shooters. They finished with 11-of-30 from beyond the arc. Everyone in the starting lineup, including Paul Millsap (25 points) and Pero Antic hit at least one 3-pointer, and Shelvin Mack helped out from the bench with 8 points and two tres of his own. The Pacers didn’t get what they expected from their bench: Evan Turner scored nine points but Luis Scola had only two with some awful defense as a bonus. That’s not how you win a game that is supposed to turn your season around.
The Pacers have been here before and turned it around, so it’s not the end of the world. But piecing together everything we’ve seen from them over the last couple of months shouldn’t make this loss surprising. They’re playing bad basketball and don’t seem to be motivated or strong enough mentally to overcome the moments when things stop working. Their fans stopped believing midway through the fourth quarter, and it remains to be seen if that’s another bolt coming loose in the breaking down wagon or something that will rally the troops.