It’s funny that a team with a 53-25 can be considered to be in a crisis, but the Indiana Pacers aren’t playing anything like championship contenders, and their loss, at home, 107-88 to the Atlanta Hawks has to be one of those rock bottom moments they’ve been heading towards for quite some time.
Roy Hibbert lasted only nine minutes in the game. Frank Vogel benched him with 30 minutes to go, never to return. Maybe it has something to do with fatigue, but there seems to be nothing about the Pacers even slightly redeeming. Their offense has always been tough to swallow, and mostly hinged on Paul George’s ability to make plays and Lance Stephenson getting in the mood from time to time. The defense was a solid rock everyone could lean on when things weren’t going too smoothly. Stephenson provided a “magical” moment of kungfu during the game by kicking Paul Millsap instead of playing basketball on his way to the basket.
But now? The Hawks play fast basketball and Jeff Teague can be tricky to hold down, but there’s nothing too daunting about the Hawks’ offense, especially since Al Horford finished the season. However, Teague scored 25 points and almost every pick and roll or off the ball screen put the Pacers defense in complete disarray. They were down 17-3 about halfway into the first quarter when Vogel benched his entire lineup
He looks worn down. He’s a 7-foot-2 player who has played every game this year, which is very rare. He looks to me to be worn down. He’s given good effort but he looks to me to be worn down. Combine that with the fact that they have a 3-point shooting 5-man most of the game. It’s a difficult matchup.
The Pacers have now lost four of five since beating the Miami Heat. People joked about Indiana focusing too much on these regular season wins over Miami, but they’ve lost six games on the road and home doesn’t seem to be helping too much unless it’s an awful team like the Detroit Pistons, and even that game almost slipped away for Indiana.
The startling lineup for the Pacers shot 15-of-48 from the field. Paul George led the team with 18 points but took 17 shots. David West was as usual the solid one for most of the game with 5-of-10, but clearly something has gone very wrong for Indiana along the way. It might be fatigue, like it was for them late last season. Maybe we’ll see a different Pacers team showing up for the postseason – hungry, disciplined, organized and smart.
However, there’s too much happening over the last six weeks that points to the other direction. That something within the team isn’t working. Not just the offense that has stagnated and depends on George or Stephenson making individualistic plays to rescue them, or the defense that looks lazy and penetrable too many times. Talk about team chemistry is often based on rumors and gossip, but with Hibbert looking angry on the bench and something about the way this team communicated on the floor rubs you the wrong way, and send all kinds of bad messages.
The Hawks are a step closer to the playoffs thanks to the win, two games above the New York Knicks for that 8th spot in the East, which right now lands them a series with the Miami Heat. The Pacers are one game behind Miami and have to play in South Beach before the season is over. It’s hard to think of them as a number one seed or title contenders when they’re playing as bad as this.