The Indiana Pacers’ late-season struggles continued as the team lost to the visiting Atlanta Hawks yesterday by a score of 101-93. When the team is playing its best, the offense features a balanced attack. In order for the offense to hum, the team needs balanced scoring from the inside and outside. Against the Hawks, Roy Hibbert and David West combined for a total of only 16 points as the inside part of the equation, which will not lead to playoff success.
When the Pacers pushed the Miami Heat to seven games in last season’s eastern conference finals, Roy Hibbert was a force. He averaged 22.1 points and 10.4 rebounds in the series. Hibbert’s scoring has been virtually nonexistent of late. In the last four games of the season he scored zero points twice, once against the Hawks. While no one can point to a lack of effort on Hibbert’s part, he continues to languish in the paint. Diagnosing the exact source of the problem is not obvious; therefore, figuring out a solution over the course of the first round series will be a challenge for Pacers Coach Frank Vogel.
Although he played in the All Star game this season, Hibbert is limited athletically. Unlike centers such as Dwight Howard and Joachim Noah, Hibbert does not have the speed to score transition baskets to jump start his offensive game. In order for their center to score, the Indiana team needs to set up its offense and Hibbert has to position himself in the paint. He must be fed the ball within eight feet of the basket to consistently score. The vast majority of his made shots occur close to the basket. His greatest assets are his seven-foot two-inch height and his strength. Those assets cannot be utilized receiving the ball on beyond point-blank range. If point guard George Hill cannot make an entry pass at the right moment when Hibbert has best positioned himself, then the possibility of Hibbert scoring is largely diminished.
Disrupting Hill and other wing players before the can feed Hibbert is an effective strategy to slow down Hibbert’s scoring. Hibbert recently expressed his frustration by calling out his teammates for selfishness. For the Indiana squad, selfishness does not appear to be the problem as much as wing players taking matters into their own hands because the interior offense is only a rumor. Even the Pacers three-point shooting attempts are off, perhaps because perimeter defenders can more easily close out on the shooters if they have no need to hang back against a consistent inside threat. In order to keep the Pacers struggles from continuing, the Indiana squad will need to involve both Hibbert and West in the offense.
David West could have picked up some of Hibbert’s load in game one. Unfortunately, he allowed the Hawks Pero Antic get into his head. Antic is a banger without a significant offensive game. The Hawks benefit if he can play West to a standoff at the power forward position. Both players received a technical foul in the third quarter yesterday as they stood face to face in an angry confrontation. West’s anger was readily apparent. Unfortunately for the Pacers, the anger did not fuel enhanced play from West.
Clearly, the early season team chemistry beneficial to the Indiana team’s early success has been disrupted. Frank Vogel has not been able to reconstruct the chemistry on the fly. He will need to incorporate Hibbert and West back into the offense for the team to win the Atlanta series. Although the outcome of a playoff series between a one seed and an eight seed is often a foregone conclusion, the Inidana Pacers will likely continue their struggles and flame out unless the inside component to their offense is revived.
Commentary by William Costolo