Rick Carlisle's coaching called into question again after Game 5 Pacers loss to Bucks

After the Pacers were embarrassed in a Game 5 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, Rick Carlisle's coaching decisions were called into question.
Milwaukee Bucks v Indiana Pacers - Game Three
Milwaukee Bucks v Indiana Pacers - Game Three / Dylan Buell/GettyImages

There were many reasons for the Indiana Pacers' embarrassing 92-115 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 5. Still, chief among them was Rick Carlisle's baffling coaching decisions, mainly with his rotation choices.

For some context, Indiana's Game 1 loss to the Bucks had one distinct trait compared to their three wins that followed, with that being Carlisle's rotation choices. In Game 1, Carlisle made the interesting decision to run an 11-man rotation in the playoffs, despite other teams shortening their rotation. While this was not the main reason why Indiana lost Game 1, it was certainly one of the reasons, with players like Doug McDermott and Jalen Smith getting substantial rotation minutes and looking very outmatched in the process.

To his credit, Carlisle fixed this issue in the following three games, running an eight-man rotation of the starting five, and TJ McConnell, Ben Sheppard, and Obi Toppin off the bench. This rotation worked perfectly in Games 2 through 4, as Indiana jumped out to a 3-1 lead and prepared to put the series away in Game 5.

Unfortunately, perhaps due to overconfidence or a desire to not overwork his players, Carlisle ditched the eight-man rotation for another 10-man rotation, this time playing Isaiah Jackson and Doug McDermott rotation minutes despite both not being fit for serious playoff basketball.

While the inclusion of McDermott and Jackson into the rotation was puzzling, this was not the main issue at all. The main issue in Game 5 was the lineup combinations Carlisle went with and exactly what time he went with them.

With the Pacers up 31-21 in the first quarter, Carlisle ran with a lineup of T.J. McConnell, Ben Sheppard, Doug McDermott, Obi Toppin, and Myles Turner, already a questionable lineup, especially in the first quarter.

This was when the errors began to pile up. The first issue was the removal of Tyrese Haliburton for the last three minutes of the first quarter and the first four minutes of the second quarter. During these seven minutes, Milwaukee went on a 15-9 run and brought the game within two points, after which Haliburton checked back in.

Perhaps Carlisle's biggest error of the game came in the third quarter. With Indiana cutting Milwaukee's 12-point lead to nine, Rick Carlisle inexplicably subbed in Obi Toppin for Andrew Nembhard, TJ McConnell for Myles Turner, and Isaiah Jackson for Pascal Siakam, to go with Tyrese Haliburton and Ben Sheppard already on the floor.

For some reason, Carlisle thought it was a good idea to go with an all-bench lineup with Indiana trying to build momentum and come back strong. It's pretty safe to say this idea did not work out, with the Bucks following those substitutions up with six straight points to increase their lead to 15, the highest of the game up to that point.

With the Pacers looking for more momentum and a chance to come back to win, the decision to sub out three of their best playoff performers for two players who have been bad to unremarkable so far in this series was puzzling at best, and downright inexplicable at worst. Milwaukee seemed to think so at least, turning that nine-point lead into a 20-point lead by the end of the quarter, by which time the game was out of reach and the time for smart rotations was over.

As everyone knows, including Rick Carlisle, the playoffs are when rotations get shortened and your best players play upwards of 40 minutes. With this being said, the decision to play Haliburton and Siakam 33 minutes each and Turner only 30 minutes was quite puzzling. Due to their status as the best players on the team, they should have been given plenty more minutes, and rotation lineups had to include at least two of them on the floor at the same time if not all three.

Comparing this to the Bucks, Khris Middleton and Boby Portis both played 39-40 minutes while Patrick Beverley also played 36 minutes. As a result, all three played fantastic basketball and led their team to a much-needed win. In total, only seven players on the Bucks played over seven minutes, with every rotation player getting at least 20 minutes. As a result, all seven players had positive plus/minus scores and contributed beautifully to their win.

As for the Pacers, eight players played over 16 minutes and everyone on the team was a net negative on the floor. Despite his horrible playoff rotation, Doc Rivers understood the assignment to shorten his rotations and give his best players as much time as possible, especially Middleton and Portis, which led to an undermanned Milwaukee team getting a win to save their season.

After this loss, opinions began to fly everywhere about Rick Carlisle. Some praised the coach despite the loss, labeling his Game 5 as a mistake and hoping he could learn from it and do them right in Game 6.

Others were not so kind, stating that Carlisle should be fired if the Pacers manage to lose the series to the Bucks after going up 3-1. Truth be told, it will be hard to argue in Carlisle's favor if these baffling lineup decisions continue and Indiana drops the series, especially after all the injuries the Bucks have suffered.

With the Pacers having a day of reflection before Game 6 back in Indiana, and with the looming returns of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard fresh in their minds, it is up to the players to play better, but it is also up to Rick Carlisle to motivate them and bring out good rotations to help them succeed as he did in the last three games.


If not, the Pacers may be looking at a blown 3-1 series lead and a potential head coaching change in the summer. While Carlisle has certainly overachieved with this group, a loss to an undermanned Bucks team would not do him any favors in the front office.