Will Frank Vogel start Roy Hibbert? Perhaps more importantly, will he play anything but token minutes? There is reason to think Vogel has figured out that none of the best lineups he can play against the Hawks feature Hibbert, but there is also reason to think he is the guy from Memento and has no short-term memory.
Regardless, our own Ben Gibson did a good job breaking down Hibbert’s struggles so far and this is the biggest question for Game 7.
Still, there are other major issues as play. Here are three that I think will define Game 7 — and decide whether or not Indiana gets to play another game this season.
Defend the 3-Point Arc
In Indiana’s three wins in this series, they have allowed just 92.6 points per 100 possessions. In three losses, that number has ballooned to an embarrassing 107.9 per 100, according to NBA.com
Now, the offensive numbers have been similar in wins vs. losses as well (106.3 in wins, 97.4 in losses) but the fatal flaws have been defensively. And in the past two games, the difference has been almost entirely at the 3-point arc. This — not this lack of individual production — is the biggest rationale for giving Roy Hibbert zero minutes in Game 7.
Game 5 featured a barrage from Mike Scott and Shelvin Mack, with Atlanta hitting 15-of-27 (55.6%) from deep. Game 6 was completely the opposite, as Indiana held the Hawks to just 9-of-25 (25.7%) from deep.
Atlanta continues to space the floor with five shooters. It’s not even that they’re shooting particularly well or that they are running tricky action to get open shots. No, they are simply launching, and the reason they have gotten so many good looks is largely due to the fact that Indiana’s large, mobile defenders (namely Hibbert and Scola) have not been able to move quickly enough to contest.
David West and Ian Mahinmi have more lateral quickness and react more rapidly, so they have not been exploited as often by player and ball movement. It is for this reason that they should play most of the game, with Chris Copeland and (probably) Luis Scola sopping up the rest of the minutes. If Vogel really wants to maximize his team’s ability to defend the 3-point line, however, he should keep both West and Mahinmi out there for as long as possible, even if that means they have to go 40 minutes.
We know the Hawks will put up roughly 30 treys in Game 7. They have chucked between 27 and 35 in each game and eclipsed 30 four times. If they make 13 or more, the Pacers are probably in trouble. If they hit 10 or less, Indiana probably comes away with a win.
Give West the Rock
In Game 6, the Pacers thrived by giving David West the ball in space to create and score. Down the stretch, he was masterful, scoring a pair of buckets, getting to the line, and recording an assist. But just in general, when he has the ball in the center of the court, good things happen.
This was shown in Game 6 by West recording 98 touches — far and away the most any Pacer has had in this series. Paul George and George Hill are the only two Pacers to even crack 80 touches in a game. Moreover, consider this: West has led the team in touches twice during this series. That came in Game 6 and Game 4. Indiana won both those games.
In addition to me harping on this throughout the series, the two leading Zach’s (Lowe of Grantland and Harper of CBS) both recently documented how in
The Pacers have an anemic offense, and they need all the open acreage they can get just to function. George Hill in Game 6 did a nice job stringing pick-and-rolls out to the sideline and drawing out the Atlanta traps, confident he could lob a pass across the court to his big man near the bucket … More space makes the simple stuff easier, and the Pacers on offense can really do only the simple stuff.
That’s the key.
Keep the offense simple, spread out Atlanta’s help defenders, and let West, Paul George, and Lance Stephenson out-talent the few Hawks between them and the hoop.
Get to the Line and MAKE the Shots
The Pacers made a series-high (for them) 23 free throws in Game 6. Impressive considering they got there just 27 times (good for 85.2%). In their Game 2 win, they hit 21-of-27 (77.8%) freebies.
Compare this with their 16-for-23 (69.6%) and 11-for-18 (61.1%) performances in their Game 1 and Game 5 losses. They left too many points on the board in both of those contests.
While all the rotation and strategy talk regarding Frank Vogel’s questionable decision making is valid and all have a ton of influence on the outcome, this one could also very well be decided by a few misses and makes.
How many open 3′s will Atlanta miss? How many free throws with Indian blow? How many mid-range jumpers will David West drain?
Game 7′s have come down to less.