Indiana Pacers – Finally Looking Like Contenders

Pacers beat Hawks

Whatever bothered the Indiana Pacers through their series with the Atlanta Hawks might be gone or solved, as the number one seed in the East took care of business in game 7 with a 92-80 win to advance into the conference semifinals, as Paul George had another big game while Roy Hibbert, after a long and worrying slumber finally decided it’s time to show up.

Hibbert stood out despite not leading the team in scoring in the big win because of how bad he’s been throughout the series, resulting in Vogel benching him for most of the second half multiple times. He was averaging 4 points and 3.2 rebounds per game on 30.3% from the field, getting only 20 minutes a night through the first six games. But Hibbert was a new man and better player the moment game 7 began, finishing with 13 points, 7 rebounds, 5 blocks while shooting 6-of-10 from the field, while the Pacers’ net efficiency was +24.6 when Roy Hibbert was on the court.

And when Hibbert is this good and dominant, the Pacers look like a team that’s very hard to beat. David West joined him to make a formidable tandem in the paint, adding six blocks of his own. Paul George took care of things on the offensive side of the ball, scoring 30 points, capping off a wonderful series for him, adding 11 rebounds which helped us forget about his awful 1-of-8 from beyond the arc effort.

As always, the Hawks relied on their 3-point shooting abilities. Kyle Korver showed up, hitting 5-of-10, but he was the only one. The rest of the team made 6-of-34 attempts, and the foursome of DeMarre Carroll, Paul Millsap, Pero Antic and Jeff Teague combined to miss all of their 15 3-point attempts. Millsap was awful with 6-of-21 from the field, Pero Antic didn’t score a single point and Jeff Teague had his worst game of the series at the worst possible time.

The Pacers decided it’s time to let go of their bench, with Hibbert’s 31 minutes being the shortest time spent on the floor for the starters: Hill was on it for 44 minutes, West and George 43 minutes each, Lance Stephenson played 39 minutes. All the impressive bench additions the Pacers have made to perfect their team? Both Luis Scola and Evan Turner weren’t even used, showing just how much Vogel trusts those that “didn’t go to war” with him in previous seasons.

The Pacers are scary again. No matter how bad they’ve look in some of their losses, it seems that Hibbert got his groove back, and Indiana should feel like a number one team heading into a tough series with the Wizards, who present a different, more physical challenge than the Hawks did. It’ll be interesting to see if Vogel continues with this approach, which is pretty much going back to the basic formula of relying on five players only, without putting much faith in the subs.

The Hawks? Maybe with Al Horford it would have been different: Not just the playoffs but the regular season. However, this is an OK team for the last six-seven years, always making the playoffs but never doing something more than a first round (third consecutive first round exit), and there seems to be a clear glass ceiling for this franchise until they make a big move in free agency or get lucky in the draft, which usually means having a bad season or making a trade that turns out to be a fortunate one.

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