Remember at the beginning of the of the season when the Pacers looked like they were going to win the championship? Yeah, somebody please find me that team, because the Pacers we have been seeing in this series looks like a shell of the team that could have been. This team’s breakdown should not be a shocker though. Since Frank Vogel took control of this team, this appears to be the continuous story: Pacers look very good in the first part of the season, the second half look average. Is it Frank Vogel’s fault? Not entirely. But the Pacers have a lot of questions that they need answers and they need those answers quickly. They are down 2-1 in their series against the 8th seeded Atlanta Hawks, and based on their play they could very well get bounced in the first round. Where do I begin?
Lets start from here: I am nowhere near surprised. All season long talking with friends and family when ever the Pacers were mentioned I would bring up the fact that they were not as good as everybody made them out to be. They started the season out going 18-2 the first 20 games, and everybody had them pegged to win the championship after that point. They were playing incredible defense. Paul George looked like an MVP. Roy Hibbert was coming into the big man his team needed him to be, averaging a double-double. Lance Stephenson was a more improved player than last year contributing to the offense. This teamed looked strong, having beat the upper echelon of the NBA and making it to the All-Star break with a record of 40-12. They were well on pace to win 60 games, maybe even 70.
Then the decline. The Pacers came out of the All-Star break looking like a slightly different team, more notably Roy Hibbert who slowly lost his edge. They lost 10 of 18 games played in March and finished off the season at 56-26. You may be saying to yourself ” That’s a good record isn’t it?” and you are right, it got them the number one seed. But going 40-12 the first half of the season makes it even more alarming when you finish 11-13 in the last two months of the season going into the playoffs. It is like they stumbled across the finish line as opposed to marching across it. And the result is what you see here in this series.
I am going to give credit where it is due – the Hawks came to play. They are on their can’t tell me nothing mode right now as they are doing what nobody had thought they could do. If the Spurs/Mavs aeries was Rocky, this series in definitely Rocky II as it would appear that the underdog is ready to take down the top dog. If you would have told me a week ago that Jeff Teague would the driving force in the Hawks ability to win then I would have laugh at you in your face. Jeff Teague is good, but not proven. If he continues to play at this level then you would then have permission to laugh at my face because watching the game last night, he was the man on the street. It becomes so evident why the Pacers are getting outplayed, out hustled, and out classed (the way they celebrated in-game 2 at the end of the third was so immature) is because the Hawks want it more than the Pacers. What you are seeing is effort over talent, something that does not happen very often.
The Pacers problems start with Roy Hibbert. Shooting 2-9 last night shed some light one the problem. The big man is not making the shots in the paint. As a result, the Pacers are forced to do what they are not that good at – shooting the ball. They shot 37% from the field last night, and 25% from the 3 point line. If the Pacers are going to get back into this series, it starts with Hibbert taking command of the paint and dominating again. The second problem is the bench. Outside Scola, the bench does nothing. Scola had 17 of the benches 28 points. Evan Turner and C.J. Watson are capable of scoring 10 points off the bench when needed. With a boost from the bench, the Pacers are going to look for the bulk of the offensive weight to be put on Lance Stephenson and Paul George. Problem number 3 is the Pacers largest problem, shot selection. There are games where it looks like the Pacers cannot miss a shot. There are games where it looks like the Pacers are blind children, throwing up ill-advised shots. Last night was one of those nights. There was an air of desperation in the way they played, and it helped the Hawks pull away at the end of the game. Paul George did not score a point in the first half, and finished the game shooting 3-11. Some of the shots he took were forced. I know that offense is not the Pacers thing, but unlike the Bulls, the Pacers have players to answer offensively. Perhaps the Pacers are not the team we thought they were.
This brings us to this point, what do the Pacers do now? There has been talk that Frank Vogel is coaching for his job which to be honest is a bit absurd. Frank Vogel is a good coach, he is just coaching players that are not mature enough to win a championship. What the Pacers need to do is one thing. Learn. They have a very solid core and the front office can continue to build around them. Ultimately it is going to take Hibbert finding out what works for him against some players and what does in other situations. It is also going to take Paul George taking better control of his team. At this moment it does not feel like Paul George is the leader, just an important part of the team. He is going to have to change an aspect of his game like facilitate a bit more, or rebound more to find out what helps his team better. I will say this. If they win this series, they will probably lose the next series. If they are struggling this much with a team that was 6 games under .500 mark then I can’t imagine what will happen when they play a team that is more complete than the Hawks. I will be watching game 4 with an observant eye. Needless to say, if Jeff Teague is going to be making shots like this,the Pacers are in some deep doo-doo.
Today is the last day of our giveaway…..and nobody qualified for it (how sad is that). I mean seriously, not a single person, this was a give me. So we are going to close it at the end of the day and reopen it on Monday with a different prize. See you on Monday! Thanks for reading and don’t forget to like, share, blah blah blah you know the deal.
All stats were provided by ESPN.com