That scenario doesn’t leave any room for error and the Pacers are going to have to decide what they think will work against the Atlanta Hawks in the most important game so far this season.
The Pacers have used a total of 46 different combinations so far in this series with the usual starting five of George Hill, Lance Stephenson, Paul George, David West and Roy Hibbert getting the most play. But as we know that hasn’t gone so well. A -7.2 net rating per a game is all the starters have to show for 78 minutes of work. Plenty has been said about the disappearance of Hibbert and it shouldn’t be any surprise that out of the 11 5-man unit’s that have seen at least 8 minutes of play, the starters are 7th ranked unit.
Through the series we’ve seen Indiana coach Frank Vogel hesitated to go small, but we started to see a glimpse of it as the Pacers staved off elimination in Game 6.
Vogel showed the first real sign of being willing to go away from Hibbert when he substituted Chris Copeland in for Roy midway through the first quarter in Game 6. Soon after Hill was replaced by C.J.Watson and Indiana went on a 14-5 run that more or less evened up the score. During that short five minute stretch the Pacers line up (Copeland, George, Stephenson, Watson and West) went ballistic as they posted and offensive rating of 130 and a defensive rating of 55.6. No surprise that they kept Atlanta to 41.7 percent shooting while they closed the gap.
Obviously this is a very small sample size but it shouldn’t be ignored that obviously a bigger, more Hibberty lineup hasn’t bared better results with over an hour of time on the court. Hell, even when Mahinmi replaced Hibbert in the starters usual 5-man unit on Thursday, which saw nine minutes of court time, the Pacers had a +52 net rating. Out of all the Pacers main 5-man units (with at least 4 minutes of play in Game 6), the Pacers had a -86.8 net rating with Hibbert on the floor.
Vogel kept small for the most part in the first half with Hibbert not seeing the court again until late in the third quarter and then pulled him in the fourth with just over seven minutes left. During that stretch West went four-of-five shooting during his eff-you mode stretch to close out the game. Indiana played well down the stretch shooting 7-of-11 while the Hawks went 4-of-12.
The take away from Game 6? Going small was the turning point.
But that’s a small sample size, can’t be part of a bigger trend, right?
Out of the unit’s that have played eight minutes, there is only one with Hibbert, and it is -7.2 with him on the court. The best units tend to have Copeland and Watson in them net rating wise. While not every unit with Hibbert is in the negative, the numbers combined with the eye test show that Hibbert has struggled, and struggled enough to hurt the Pacers. It doesn’t help either that the Hawks are rebounding better on offense when Hibbert is on the floor. The argument that Indiana was still rebounding better with Hibbert on the floor hasn’t been true in the playoffs.
With Pero Antic drawing out Hibbert in Atlanta’s 5-Out offense, Hibbert isn’t in his normal spot near the rim. The entire Indiana defense is build around the idea of Hibbert camping near the basket. The Hawks have decided to remove Hibbert from the game by putting all five guys out wide and then waiting to shoot a 3-pointer or find a cutter going to the basket when someone misses an assignment.
And it has worked quiet well.
Looking at the numbers, Indiana is better off starting Copeland or Mahinmi. And they shouldn’t hesitate to bring in C.J. Watson for Hill either, but Hill’s case isn’t so startling. It is simply damning that the Pacers’ +/- is -10.6 per a game with Hibbert is on the floor. With Copeland on they are +17.6, Watson +4.5 per a game in the playoffs.
Seemingly no matter what metric you look at in this playoff series, the Pacers are playing better with Hibbert off the floor.
With Hibbert off the floor the Pacers offense looked to have a real flow to it. Instead of things getting clogged down near the basket, Copeland, Watson and West opened up the floor for the Pacers. When Hibbert is on the floor, the Pacers have a True shooting percentage of 50.8, but when he’s off it is 55.7. When Hibbert is off the floor the Pacers have been better at creating space for each other and that ends with better, smarter shots. When he was on the floor the team went 2-of-9 in both stretches, totaling 4-of-18 when Roy was on the floor. They were 22-of-49 in the middle stretches when Hibbert was off the floor.
Even in Games 1 through 5, the Pacers were better off with Hibbert on the bench.
This isn’t about small ball. This is about Hibbert-free ball.
Vogel can’t hesitate to use the tools at his disposal and with the eye test and the numbers coming together; it is more evident than ever that Vogel needs to keep Hibbert off the floor.