Win or go on vacation. That’s all that’s left to say. The Pacers must beat the Hawks tonight in Atlanta or their once-promising season will end in the most embarrassing fashion of any one seed in memory.
Will they win? Can they win? Who must step up?
We ask five 8p9s scribes their thoughts on tonight’s game.
1. What is the biggest key to the Pacers winning Game 6?
David Searle: Defend without fouling. The Hawks have shot at least 28 free throw attempts (with a high of 37) in each of their three victories. In losses? Atlanta has averaged only 17.5 attempts from the stripe. The Al Horford-less Hawks don’t have enough offensive muscle to get 90-ish points without significant help from the line. Assuming the Pacers are competent offensively, a sub-90 output from Atlanta should result in a Pacers victory.
Scott Stewart: Playing small ball. The C.J. Watson/George Hill/Paul George/Luis Scola/David West lineup is a popular one, but I would even look for Chris Copeland to see some time tonight. Indiana will have to adjust both offensively and defensively to avoid elimination.
Jalen Bishop: There are lots of things Indiana needs to do right, but closing out on 3-point shooters seems most important. Atlanta is attempting 30.2 triples per game and connecting at a 39% clip. Run Kyle Korver, Mike Scott and Demarre Carroll off the 3-point line. Give ‘em the Danny Green treatment.
Mark Evans: I’d love to say “getting something out of Roy Hibbert,” but that just ain’t happening. The Pacers need Lance Stephenson to be the X-Factor, in a positive way, that he was at so many points during the regular season.
Jon Washburn: The biggest key will be to keep Atlanta’s 3-point shooters under control. I don’t really think it matters how well the Pacers play offense if they yield 9 3-pointers in a quarter again. Whether they so that by going small or not doesn’t matter. They just need to do it.
2. What one stat best explains Indiana’s struggles so far in the first round?
Searle: Roy Hibbert’s offensive rating in the playoffs: 71. To put that in perspective, Ben Wallace had an offensive rating of 72 in his first year in the NBA, a season in which he averaged 1.1 points per game on sub-35% shooting. Wow.
Stewart: In Pacers’ losses, Atlanta averages over 30 free-throw attempts per game. In Pacers’ wins, however, the Hawks see the line under 20 attempts per game. Atlanta is a decent free-throw shooting team, so tonight will be about whether or not the Pacers can play good, clean defense without fouling.
Bishop: Indiana’s free-throw shooting. They are second to last in free-throw percentage in the playoffs. Indiana was top 10 in percentage, and in the top 15 in makes per game, during the regular season. Those are shots you have to hit.
Evans: The number is 20; the combined total of rebounds and blocks by Hibbert in five games this series. For the tallest player on the floor, this seems like a problem.
Washburn: Nine. The number of 3-pointers Atlanta hit in the second quarter of Game 5. It still blows my mind how a team that was so good at denying the 3 all year could play so poorly.
3. Who is more responsible for Indiana’s failures so far against the Hawks: the players or the coach?
Searle: When one player stinks up the joint, blame the player. Other players have been up and down this series, but Hibbert has been a complete disaster on the level of the Pelican’s first mascot. Yes, it is Vogel’s job to work around Hibbert’s disappearance. However, I choose to place blame at the feet of the guy who vanished, not the guy who hasn’t figured out how to compensate for that yet. Now, if the Pacers lose Game 6…
Stewart: I think the responsibility falls on both really. Vogel has not been playing the lineups that work against the Hawks, and by the time he adjusts it is often too late. That said, when Hibbert, West, and George struggle, Indiana is bound to lose. Hibbert has been a no-show thus far (understatement of the decade), but look for PG to continue breaking down the Atlanta D. When Indiana wins, it’s often due to 20/10 games from George.
Bishop: Combination of players and coach. Vogel refuses to go small, and the players are getting embarrassed by a 38-win team. A player with iPhone emojis tattooed on him is going off, too. Embarrassing.
Evans: It’s the players. I’m not sure there are a ton of great strategy options for Vogel to go to. At some point, the players need to step up, and for the most part, they simply haven’t done so. Not a great coaching job by Vogel, but this is on the players.
Washburn: I blame Vogel. Every time the Pacers have gone small, they have outplayed Atlanta. They can only do so much. The Pacers have (well … had) a chance to beat Miami by going big — but they can’t beat Atlanta that way.
4. Which player do the Pacers need to step up the most?
Searle: The real answer is Hibbert, in neon flashing letters. However, it looks like that will not happen. So the Pacers, operating in a reality where Hibbert isn’t an option, must find a warm body to soak up some minutes without getting in the way of Paul George and company. Chris Copeland, come on down! You are the next contestant on Who Wants To Play Half-Decent NBA Playoff Basketball!
Stewart: Paul George. He has to be consistent on both ends of the floor. He has to create shots and not just barrel through the lane hoping for a whistle. More than anything, he, and Mr. West, need to quit whining about calls and play the game. If Paul shoots well, gathers his usual boards, and can add on a couple of assists and steals, then Indiana has a good shot.
Bishop: George Hill. He’s an above-average shooter from distance for his career. Indiana needs another accurate shooter beyond the arc besides Paul George tonight.
Evans: George Hill. Indiana needs to contain the Kyle Korvers and Mike Scotts of the world, and this starts with stopping Teague’s penetration. They might not need a ton of offense out of Hill, but keeping Teague in front of him will be huge when he covers him and running around with Korver at other times is also essential.
Washburn: George Hill. Paul George has been great all series and David West has done David West things. Good play from Watson and Scola are huge pluses, but not necessarily vital for Indy. The Pacers need Hill to be aggressive on offense and annoy Korver on defense to be successful.
5. Do you expect Indiana to win tonight?
Searle: I guess? The Pacers are a vastly superior team, so the head says yes. It is up to the Pacers to put their hearts into it.
Stewart: I do fully expect Indiana to win tonight. Despite the slump since the All-Star break, I didn’t think the Pacers would struggle this much in the first round. Atlanta was always a dangerous match-up, but I had full confidence that the Pacers would finish the series in six games. Now, they have their backs up against the wall and are fighting tonight for a Game 7. Tonight? I definitely expect Indiana to win.
Bishop: Yes. 98-92. I expect a lot of desperation, but who knows?
Evans: Yes. Call me crazy, but I still think this team has some sort of pride. I don’t know that it’s enough to win the series, but I think it’s enough to at least extend it to a seventh game. Yes, it’s sad that it’s come to “well, they have enough pride to at least lose in seven in the first round.”
Washburn: Yes. They should win by 10-12.