Frank Vogel's Curious Decision to Play Tyler Hansbrough the Whole Fourth Quarter

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Last night, Roy Hibbert played arguably the worst game of his NBA career. Since he posted 0 points, only took—and missed—2 shots, grabbed just 1 rebound and committed 3 fouls in 21 minutes of action, it’s safe to at least say it was the worst statistical output of his professional life.

As a result, presumably, coach Frank Vogel benched Hibbert for the entire fourth quarter. Roy has been playing terrible offensive basketball all season, so poor production isn’t exactly atypical to see across his stat line. But the lack of rebounds shows just how lackadaisically and apathetically he played throughout—even on defense, which is something he has generally excelled at this season to such a degree that made his inability to score all season somewhat bearable.

It was clear to anyone who watched that Hibbert was disengaged.

Zaza Pachulia easily scored a layup over Roy’s token out-stretched arms on the first play of the game. Al Horford hit a jumper in his face not long after. He then loafed through a rotation that gave Horford another open jump shot.

Things were little better during his second-quarter stint. Hibbert did manage to block a driving attempt by Pachulia, but he was nowhere to be found in helpside as Horford got by David West and made an uncontested layup, and he neither provided any resistance against a Lou Williams floater in the lane nor stopped Zaza from grabbing the miss and laying it in easily. On the very next play, another Williams/Pachulia pick-and-roll resulted in Roy defending neither player and Zaza catching a nice pass to get another layup.

I won’t even bother recounting the pointlessness of his play on offense.

So, yeah, the decision to bench Hibbert was justifiable.

Unfortunately, the decision to play Tyler Hansbrough for the entire fourth quarter may have been less defensible. No pun intended there, but it was a complete defensive breakdown in the paint that helped thwart a noble comeback attempt by Indiana.

The Pacers trailed by 18 with just over 14 minutes left, but through some stalwart scoring and potent defense made a 12-3 run and eventually cut the deficit to just 3 points. After that, however, the Hawks were able to score easily inside and managed to extend their lead, putting Indiana away by 109-100 as the buzzer sounded. (It was more like a 12-point win though. Paul George hit a meaningless three as time expired.)

I’s possible that this comeback would have fizzled out regardless. But the key problem late was the terrible interior defense of the Pacers.

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Jeff Teague and Lou Williams drove the lane with impunity as the Hawks hit 7 of their final 12 shots, with 5 of those makes coming in the paint and 2 more points coming on Teague free throws that came when David West fouled to prevent what would have otherwise been an uncontested layup. Four points also followed Pachulia offensive boards that were the result of Zaza outmuscling/outworking Hansbrough for the loose ball.

And the two makes that didn’t come in the paint? Horford jumpers out of the pick-and-roll, one after Hansbrough fell and the other with him leaving Al open and not doing anything to make the pass difficult.

Worse still, Tyler provided next to nothing (2 points at the line) on offense and committed an ugly, careless turnover with 3 minutes to play that led to a Teague breakaway layup that put Atlanta back up by double digits and, effectively, ended the comeback try.

The question here is obvious: Where was Ian Mahinmi?

Mahinmi started the quarter at center (while Indiana was cutting the lead) alongside Tyler, but checked out when West re-entered the game with eight minutes to play. Then, on the bench he sat, as Teague drove the lane, Zaza grabbed offensive boards, and Horford got his in the pick-and-pop.

In 2012, going small down the stretch isn’t a bad tactic. The last two NBA champions have relied on such a strategy almost exclusively. But when the other team is playing Al Horford and Zaza Pachulia down the stretch, and you have a capable center on the bench and an undersized front-court getting torn to shreds, it starts to become puzzling.

Mahinmi blocked 3 shots and scored 13 points on 7 shots while earning 8 free-throw attempts. All in 19 minutes. He probably deserved a chance to come in and try to stop the revolving-door late-game defense on a night when Hibbert wasn’t prepared to give any resistance and Hansbrough proved incapable of doing much of anything.

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