(screenshot via @CJzero)

Pacers Get Destroyed by Hawks in Game 1: This Is My Shocked Face


It was ugly. It was awful. It was embarrassing.

It wasn’t remotely surprising.

The Pacers have been spoiled milk for months now. Anyone who thought the could come out and roll over any top-20 NBA was delusional. They struggle to beat anyone most nights these days. Once in awhile, they put forth a full-game of execution like they recently did against the Thunder (or the Heat or Bulls awhile earlier).

Such performances have been few and far between since the All-Star break, however, so the only actual reason to think the Hawks would be cannon fodder was blind (and probably ignorant) faith.

On top of that, the Hawks — with two bigs, in Pero Antic and Paul Millsap, who like to shoot 3s — are a rough matchup. They aren’t a good team, mind you, but they present the exact issues that becoming an out-sized challenge for Indiana, and specifically Roy Hibbert.

That was on full display early, as Atlanta launched 18 first-half triples. They weren’t deadly accurate, but it was enough to keep the paint empty, and Jeff Teague took full advantage, destroying George Hill again and again. Occasionally, Paul George would match up with Teague, and this seemed to be a better look — in two ways, since Hill has more focus running around screens to chase a shooter like Kyle Korver.

But for whatever reason, Hill stayed on Teague most of the time, and it dismantled Indiana’s whole defense throughout the night. Hill deserves plenty of blame so this isn’t an attempt to take him off the hook, but he is also accustomed to corralling speedy penetrators like Teague into his teammates rather than being a toe-to-toe “keep everyone in front of me” defender. This is by design.

When Hibbert and West aren’t in the paint, however, the whole plan must change. Hill didn’t. He defended like he had help behind him.


In addition to the early chess/strategy issues of this series that were fully in play early on, the Pacers actually put together a lovely second quarter.

Lance + bench came out with a bunch of energy and set a tone that helped the whole team snap out of it. Stephenson scored 6 straight, and while he may have gotten overly eager on a few subsequent possessions, the shot of adrenaline he provided stood in stark contrast to the lumbering lethargy that is Roy Hibbert, who was yet again a no-show for his team.

Overall, the Pacers scored 28 points on 10-for-28 shooting in the second quarter. It wasn’t perfect basketball but it was a breath of dragon-breath air after a first quarter that required a buzzer-beating C.J. Watson 3-pointer for Indiana to even eclipse the 20-point mark. (They lost the first quarter only 28-22 on the strength of that make.) It showed that, at their best, they are simply better than Atlanta. This was despite some foul trouble that limited David West’s time on the court (which to be fair started in the first quarter and never ended.)

Unfortunately, the troubling signs from earlier in the game became full-on game-ending problems for Indiana after the half.

The Hawks simply demolished the Pacers out of the break, starting with an 8-0 run that forced Frank Vogel, who had no answers all night and looked like he had never seen the Hawks play before, to take a timeout.

This did little to slow down the Hawks, and Teague who scored 14 in the third, but even worse was the secondary effects it had on everything. Indiana began to look increasingly beleaguered, letting the early run by Atlanta destroy their confidence and prevent them from executing even rudimentary offense.

In the period, Indiana’s starters shot 3-for-13 (23.1%) with Paul George’s 1-for-7 mess doing the most damage. He took bad shots and there was nothing fluid. No good ball movement, no players popping up crisply from down screens, no quality post-ups, no effective drive and kicks. It was stagnant, shell-shocked basketball played by guys who looked like they only met this morning and started going over the playbook at halftime.

The game was over before the fourth quarter started, with a 14-point deficit feeling like 140.

Did I expect the Pacers to find themselves down by as much as 20 to the Hawks at home in game one? I mean, no. But sorta. It came as absolutely no shock, and the awful offense we saw in the third quarter has become so commonplace of late that I did an entire five-part series explaining some of the causes that lead to such impotence.

Before the game, I noted that the Pacers could lose by 30 or win by 50, and that anyone who says they know which way it would go is just selling fake confidence.

This is what these Pacers are. An enigma that, most of the time, isn’t very good.

Luckily, the Hawks are even less good less of the time, on a season-long scale, so the Pacers still have plenty of reasons to think they are still just fine.

I mean, they are in no way fine in the sense that they haven’t been fine in a long, long time. The November and December Pacers are dead and gone, but there remains plenty of talent here, and there’s no reason they can’t win four of the next five against a relatively bad team like Atlanta.

They just need to, ya know, stop being so awful.


(top GIF via @CJzero)

Tags: Indiana Pacers

  • llcoolray3000

    “that forced Frank Vogel, who had no answers all night and looked like he had never seen the Hawks play before, to take a timeout.”

    That’s it right there. I’m a big fan of Vogel, but the team has to be better prepared. They should be more familiar with the Hawks and why they are such a tough matchup for the Pacers. I know the Pacers try to force other teams to adjust to them by staying big, but the truth is that the Hawks suck and have no bench, so they can’t adjust. They are what they are, and they stick with it. It turns out that what they are is a nightmare for a big, slow, bruising team – especially when the refs aren’t in the mood to officiate a B1G Ten game.

    Where was Copeland? We needed offense, and I’d rather he jack up a few threes than friggin’ Roy Hibbert. He plays sloppy defense? Who cares!? The Pacers weren’t exactly in lockdown mode tonight. They needed to match the Hawks’ offensive output because stopping it wasn’t working (try flying wildly at a shooter to contest a shot, maybe the refs won’t call it this time!). What’s the harm in playing Copeland, Turner, Stephenson, George, and X? The Pacers want to play a bunch of iso ball anyway. I know the playoffs are a time to shorten the rotation, but lacking athletic bigs, why not run a gauntlet of Hibber, Mahinmi, and Allen at Antic? Those guys aren’t needed for points, and they can push themselves chasing him around knowing they aren’t going to play 30+ minutes.

    All that said, the Hawks also benefited by stupid Pacers fouls and nearly every missed shot perfectly bouncing into their hands. A few were poor boxouts by the Pacers, but often the rebounds just seemed magnetically attracted to them. That’s not something that can be expected to happen every game this series. If the Vogel can make a few adjustments BEFORE the game and also stop worrying about trying to protect Hibbert’s feelings (dude is a headcase and a lost cause for the season at this point unless all the all-time great Hoya centers sans Alonzo Mourning stage an intervention), then they should be able to will themselves to Round 2 (even if it does take seven games).

    • Brandon Burton

      Why does everyone ignore the fact that Copeland can’t defend anything or anyone, up to and including a brick wall. Who cares that he can score; he ,like Turner, provides a slight offensive boost paired with horrid defense. There is a reason Copeland’s minutes came with the “Defense, who cares about defense?” Knicks, you know. Besides, if we have to start outscoring teams consistently as opposed to shutting them down so our meager 85-95 points a game is enough; it’s all over anyway. Maybe not against the Hawks, but you and I both know that if we have to sacrifice defense for offense to compete, we don’t have a prayer against any other playoff team. I think we should actually play Lavoy Allen a bit in this series, he is by far our most athletic big (can get out on Antic/Millsap), is a decent rebounder and post defender, and has a David West-esque mid range game. He can’t post up worth anything, mind you, but he can space the floor a little bit while still holding up his end of the bargain on D. I’ve been a fan from ’02 (when I was 10) until now, so I’ve seen the absolute worst the Pacers have put on the court (I’m looking at you, Travis Diener); and, because of that still have a lot of faith in the team Bird has built here. Still, the game didn’t exactly make me brim with pride that I was a Pacers fan (If anything it was embarrassing). Pacers in 6.

      • llcoolray3000

        I fully acknowledge he plays poor defense. I mentioned it right there in my post, so don’t lump me in with the “everyone” who ignores his defense. They were down 20. No one was playing defense. Some instant offense off the bench wouldn’t hurt. Did they sign Copeland because they thought he had unique bench mob cheers? I’m not saying give him 20 minutes a game, but he deserved a look last night.

        • Brandon Burton

          Ok, I didn’t see that you mentioned his defensive issues, for that I apologize. However, the rest of my comment is still correct, we can’t be sacrificing defense for scoring, not with the way this team is built. We have to get back to lockdown D to have any chance of being competitive, therefore Copeland won’t help in any meaningful way, besides floor spacing (Which if Hill, George, and Stephenson remember how to shoot won’t be a need anyway). Lavoy Allen, on the other hand, provides the athleticism West and Hibbert don’t have to get out and run Millsap/Antic off the three point line while only being a slight to moderate downgrade from West in the rebounding and defense categories. The only issue would be that outside of a nice mid-range jumper and putbacks he’s got no offensive game to speak of (But, hey, if Haslem can be effective as a rotation big, then so can Allen).

          • Ian

            Just noticed this comment. Copeland is not just a decent offensive boost. He’s the statistically the best offensive player on the team. He averages 22 per 40 at over %60 true shooting, and he did it last year as well. Turner is horrible on defense AND offense. Statistically the Knicks were no worse last year with Copeland on the court than off.

          • Brandon Burton

            It still doesn’t excuse his Matador-style defense. I don’t want players that can’t play defense seeing the court; it doesn’t fit the Pacers system. Also, its not like he even has any potential to get better defensively if the Pacers let him play. He is already 30 years. In my eyes, he is nothing more than a poor-man’s Rasual Butler with worse D.

          • Ian

            Well we can agree to disagree I suppose. First, I haven’t seen any sign of matador defense. Copeland may not be a good defender but he gives effort, especially on the block (since he’s more of a stretch 4 than a swingman like Butler, that’s more likely where he should be playing defense). In that sense he’s not that much different than Scola without Scola’s savvy.

            As for your last question, what happens when you give Copeland more minutes? The last 4 times he played 15 minutes or more, he scored 19, 18, 13 and 15 points. 82 minutes played total, 65 points. With the Knicks he averaged 15.4 mpg, 8.7pts with a 58.3 TS% and 22.6 per 40.

            Lastly, the reason why the Pacers have been successful is that their starting 5 has been unique in that they had 5 players who could all score as well as playing above average individual and team defense. Problem is that bench players, who are generally by definition limited, typically can’t bring it in all aspects of the game, or they’d be starters. The Pacers big struggle has been they’ve been unable to integrate players with limited skill sets and get the best out of them coming off the bench. This has also been why the team as a whole has suffered recently, because with Hibbert and Hill being so inconsistent, it makes the other players easier to guard, and none of them have the individual brilliance of a Durant or LeBron to generate quality offense on their own.

            The Pacers are a unique model for success in the NBA. The other successful teams have a superstar or two surrounded by role players who are responsible for just a few basic tasks (either defense, rebounding, 3s, etc). The Pacers need to more consistently be able to leverage limited roleplayers who have certain skillsets instead of expecting everyone to be as good on both ends as the starters are.

  • Earl Malmsteen

    Yep, this definitely wasn’t a shock. I’ve never seen a team’s wheels fall off so completely during a season, and every time it appears that there’s progress, it goes right out the window the next game. It’s kind of hard to believe the Hawks were “only” a 5 to 1 underdog even on the heels of blowing them out at home recently. Apparently that wasn’t a fluke.

    Defensively as you point out, the Hawks are a bad matchup with Hibbert and Hill having to change their approach and there are some coaching adjustments that appear obvious and hopefully will get made. I’m not so worried about that side of the ball.

    It’s just unbelievable how ineffective Hibbert is on a regular basis anymore. He’s getting shut down for entire games by the likes of Pero Antic and Udonis Haslem. They almost never run the offense through the post anymore. Not sure whether that’s due to change in coaching approach, or maybe because Hibbert is getting pushed around on the block and can’t get position on anyone.

  • Derek Cooper

    What was that? A twilight-zone comedy trapped ina surrealist painting? Did we just watch a boxer whose actual stategy was to try his darndest through the magical power of beleif to block his opponents haymakers with his nose. Over and over and over again. I mean if a nose is all you’ve got to block with then by all means u know__but…..for heavens sake we have flippin options….

  • Jack Wright


  • marsh025

    Will the number one seed be a curse for the Pacers?
    You fight so hard all year for it, back into it at the end, and lose it the first game.
    David West one day will realize that he should find another move other than to throw his shoulder into a defender to get some space.
    an intelligent defender will draw an offensive foul everytime. Bully ball will not work.
    Vogel, you need to stop telling these guys how great they are and tell them they are not cutting it.

    • Earl Malmsteen

      I agree with you about West but it seems to me the problem is where he’s catching the ball. When the Pacers have been playing well he’s been getting the ball at 15 feet and in–now he’s catching 22 feet from the basket or at 15 with 5 people between him and the basket due to poor spacing.

  • Michael Nelson

    “… there’s no reason they can’t win four of the next five against a relatively bad team like Atlanta.”

    Heh, now who’s the one with blind, ignorant faith?