After the Pacers lost Game 2 in embarrassing fashion, allowing the Knicks to go on a 30-2 run, the media asked Frank Vogel about a timeout he called late in the third quarter. It seemed to stall some of the momentum his team had been picking up.
So goes the story.
He was short with his answer, to that question and on the whole during the press conference. For understandable reasons, he didn’t resemble the cheerful, nice man I have grown accustomed to encountering.
Along with calling the timeout, Vogel also took Roy Hibbert out of the game and inserted Jeff Pendergraph.
Then the bottom fell out and the Knicks ran away with the game.
He was asked why he made the substitution.
“I can’t play my starters 48 minutes,” said Vogel. “I’ve got to use our bench at some point.”
There were other issues in Indiana’s Game 5 loss (David West’s poor shooting and missed free throws, in particular), but that comment is essentially what this game came down to.
The Pacers’ bench is a nightmare.
DJ Augustin had been a bright spot since the playoffs started. Tyler Hansbrough has added some production at times. And Ian Mahinmi can do a good job replicating the rim protection that Roy Hibbert provides in the starting unit.
But there is nobody in this reserve group who has been a reliable contributor all season.
In Game 5, with George Hill a late-afternoon scratch, the bench was needed than normal. If the Pacers were going to close out the Knicks, in New York, someone would need to step up.
Instead, they largely played like D-Leaguers, making head-scratching mistakes that cost the team possessions and, ultimately, any chance to win this game.
Here is a run down of some of the lowlights.
- Turned the ball over after getting flustered by bringing the ball up against token Knicks pressure
- Turned the ball over on a simple entry pass in the fourth quarter
- Turned the ball over again a simple entry pass in the fourth quarter
- Got blindsided by a screen badly in the back court while guarding J.R. Smith, who immediately dribbled into the paint and blew up the Pacers’ defense, which left Chris Copeland wide open for a three
- Overall impact on game: Became a shaky ball-handler the Knicks preyed on, coughing up three turnovers in 13 minutes
- He made a boneheaded foul to close the first half that gave J.R. Smith three free throws.
- He made a terrible, playground-gimmick-style, reach-around steal attempt on Melo that got Roy Hibbert his fifth foul when he had to help to stop Anthony from getting a layup
- Overall impact on game: Provided some decent defense on Carmelo (at least forcing him into a few tough shots), but scored no points in 15 minutes and made two bonehead plays that were magnified by the consequences.
- Consistently played bad pick-and-roll defense all game
- Made an asinine behind the back pass to destroy what should have been certain fast-break points
- Missed a wide-open David West on a fourth-quarter fast break, led to a Paul George turnover
- Got blocked hilariously by J.R. Smith on a fourth-quarter fast-break that didn’t earn Indiana any points
- Gave the ball right back to New York after making a nice steal
- Overall impact: Didn’t run the offense particularly well, ran the fast-break terribly, played pretty bad defense and, despite making a few shots, was a letdown
- Shot 1-for-4 from line.
- Forgot how pivot feet work and turned the ball over
- After getting matched up on J.R. Smith, decided not to guard him and, after some miscommunication with Sam Young, allowed a wide-open three
- Overall impact: Small mistakes aside, he wasn’t bad and provided some pretty good rim protection as Roy Hibbert was sidelined.
This is a little unfair.
I could make a laundry list of the four starters’ bad plays as well. There were all the Paul George misses on open three-point looks, a horrible turnover by Roy Hibbert in the fourth against a token double team and a virtual game-ending giveaway by David West on a kick out that became a backcourt violation.
Still, those guys all played 30-plus minutes (George played 43, West played 39), and had many positive effects on the game.
Green and Young? Not so much.
Paul George seemed to know just how unreliable these guys were. When he picked up his fifth foul and Vogel sent Young to the scorer’s table, he waved the move off vehemently. He wanted to stay in the game. He needed to stay in the game.
Though not explicitly talking about the bench — he meant the whole team — David West summed things up pretty well after the game. “We didn’t step up to this moment,” said West.
When asked what Hill’s status would be for the next game, he said, “I don’t have a clue.” He said that he hopes Hill bounces back, but if he doesn’t, “we’ve had the mindset and attitude of next guy up. Guys just have to be prepared to step up.”
Yes they do.
An NBA saying is that the bench doesn’t travel. The Pacers bench certainly did not for Game 5 in New York.
It’s possible that Paul George and David West can combine for, say 54 points tonight on 19-for-25 shooting and just end this series. But that’s not really how this team is built. They expect all the starters to play well. Sometimes that is enough.
But at some point, you need the reserves to do something.
Tonight would be a good time.