Pacers Must Sit Hibbert, Play Small to Win

Not that it’s the playoffs or anything, right? Surely the Indiana Pacers didn’t win 56 games in the regular season to obtain the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference just to give a half-hearted effort against the eighth-seeded Atlanta Hawks.

The Eastern Conference quarterfinals are only three games complete for the Pacers and Hawks, a series in which Atlanta finds themselves ahead 2-1 with game 4 on their home court Saturday afternoon. Jeff Teague and Co. stare at an opportunity to move ahead three games to one against the top dogs in the East.

They have every reason to be confident. Atlanta ran all over Indiana in game 1 in Indianapolis. The Hawks surrendered game 2 to Indy before claiming game 3 in Atlanta, controlling nearly the entire game.

Apr 11, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert (55) warms up before a game against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

For the Indiana Pacers, the organization and its fans, this is no laughing matter. It isn’t January anymore. The team is no longer riding high with the best record in the NBA, when essentially, the games didn’t really matter.

If Indiana was truly as good now as they were in December, there would be no concern about winning on the road. There should have never — NEVER — been a degrading loss in the first game of the playoffs in front of the home fans.

However, three games have passed. Indiana must now play, at minimum, six games to win this first round series against Atlanta, a team that finished below .500 in the regular season (the Hawks were the only team to make the playoffs with a sub-.500 record in the regular season). A six game series would require the Pacers to win three straight, something they haven’t done since March 11-17 when they won four straight against NBA lottery-bound teams.

Looking ahead, it is time for Pacers head coach Frank Vogel to make changes. Atlanta is smaller, quicker and more athletic than Indiana. Center Roy Hibbert and guard George Hill are no match for their counterparts.

Focusing more on Hibbert, the 7’2″ big man is only taking up space on the hardwood. That’s fine and dandy in a meaningless game, but this is the playoffs, for crying out loud. Let me reiterate one thing: time for Vogel to make changes. Those changes include taking away minutes from Hibbert, who has combined to score 14 points (7-25 FG), grab 14 rebounds, commit nine fouls and seven turnovers in the three contests against the Hawks.

Allow me to make this more clear: Paul George had 14 rebounds by himself in game 3. Lance Stephenson added 13 boards  Thursday night at Philips Arena. George is five inches shorter than Hibbert; Stephenson gives up nine inches to the big fella.

Hill, to his benefit, is actually playing out of place. He is not a true point guard, but he plays steady. However, again, he is overmatched by his opposition — Teague — just as Hibbert is against … whomever he guards. Atlanta is quicker and more athletic.

Beginning with game 4, Vogel has to go small if he wants to take his team deep into the postseason. Going small benefits the true scorers in C.J. Watson, Luis Scola and Chris Copeland. Even reserve Ian Mahinmi has stepped up and played well of late at the center spot.

Memo to Vogel: time to make changes.

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