Posts Tagged ‘George Hill’

24 — Second thoughts — May 24

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Ray Allen helped the Heat carve up the Pacers in Game 3

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The first man in the building helps the Miami Heat erase an early 15-point deficit and break the spirit of the Indiana Pacers in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals.

Ray Allen hits the floor early for Game 3 of the #ECF, 8:30pm/et on @espn. #nbaplayoffs

A photo posted by NBA (@nba) on

:1

They call him Jesus … SHUTTLESWORTH! Four, count ‘em 4, fourth quarter daggers from deep for Ray Allen. They were back-breaking buckets for the Heat as they rebounded from that sluggish start to mash the Pacers.

:2

The Big 3? Not so much. The Heat lead this series 2-1 thanks to the work of their bench mob!

(more…)

24-Second Thoughts — May 18

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: The Czar explains the Hibbert Effect on the telestrator

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Look who’s back in the crosshairs.

Guess who’s back in the mix.

That’s right, it’s Big Roy Hibbert.

The Indiana Pacers’ center of attention, in every way imaginable, is front and center today in Game 1 of the long-awaited Eastern Conference finals rematch against the Miami Heat.

I don’t care about the analytics, the history or anything else.

I need to see Hibbert dominate in this series. The Pacers have to demand it if they’re going to make the home-court advantage they worked for all season mean anything.

LeBron James and Dwyane Wade will do what they do. Chris Bosh, too. Paul George, David West and Lance Stephenson will have their say. But these eyes are locked in on Hibbert. I need to know early if he’s going to be the game changer he’s supposed to be in this series.

(And while I hated to see Mark Jackson ousted the way he was at Golden State, I’m not complaining about having him back on the ABC broadcasting team for this series with Jeff Van Gundy and Mike Breen.)

Go Hibbert Pacers or go home …

What's your #PACERSvHEAT prediction?

A video posted by NBA (@nba) on

24 – There’s no denying Hibbert’s presence on the floor against the small-ball Heat. He’s established post position twice on Bosh and been a factor on that end early on. No matter how poorly he’s played in recent weeks, this was the series he was made for.

23 – The Pacers are in all-or-nothing mode early. (more…)

Familiar Pacers D should worry Wiz

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Pacers drop Wizards in Game 3 for 2-1 edge

WASHINGTON – John Wall was awfully grudging in the credit he gave the Indiana Pacers’ defense after a game in which Wall and the Washington Wizards scored 63 points, made fewer than a third of their shots and turned over the ball 18 times.

It sure seemed like an if-not-now-when kind of night to ladle some praise at the Pacers after they won big in Game 3 to go up 2-1 in the teams’ best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series. But Wall stubbornly kept the focus on what he and his teammates didn’t do well, rather than how Indiana pushed and goaded them into a truly miserable performance, before a Verizon Center crowd that barely got to clear its throat.

“We had the shots that we wanted,” the Washington point guard said, nearly 90 minutes after the final horn. Wall gets treatment after games, see, and often takes a while. And then there was the ego to soothe this time.

“I thought we had a lot of pace to start the game, we just didn’t make shots,” he said.

And: “They just sit in the paint, I mean, so you’ve got to be able to knock down a couple of shots to get those guys to come out.”

The free throws he missed (three of six)? He suffered a cut over one eye and “could barely see,” which didn’t explain his pals’ 8-for-15.  Those seven turnovers of Wall’s? “They did a great job of knocking the ball from behind. Sometimes you get that call, sometimes you don’t,” Wall said.

Wall and the Wizards can refuse to fawn over their opponents and it might even be the smart move strategically. There is no better position to be in these days against Indiana than to have the Pacers satisfied, relaxing and lacking urgency, because whenever the East’s No. 1 seed has taken the court over the past two months without beads of desperation on its guys’ brows, it generally has botched the job.

And yes, it was kind of weenie for some Pacers – Paul George, Roy Hibbert, Rasual Butler – to be celebrating early Friday with a few minutes left on the game clock. They didn’t crack 80 points themselves until the bitter end and shot just 41.9 percent, with George, David West and Lance Stephenson combining to go 16-for-42. And when Bradley Beal started the fourth quarter with a quick pair of jumpers, you could sense more than the score tightening.

But what made this “Hey! Maybe they are back” outing a little different was that Indiana did so well – won the game, essentially – with a defensive lockdown reminiscent of their finest efforts of the season (i.e., pre-February).

“I thought our focus and our intent were in the right place,” said West, who jump shots on consecutive possessions midway through the fourth countered Wizards’ scores and served as daggers (even though they only got the Pacers to 72). “Everybody was locked into their schemes, sort of where they want to go with the ball, and that fueled our defense.”

Indiana controlled the pace like a team of sluggers watering down the basepaths against a bunch of base stealers. They did a better job on the boards as the night went on – Washington missed 16 shots in the first quarter and claimed seven as offensive boards. In the second half, it missed 21 shots and only grabbed back two.

The Pacers were handsier in this one, too, most often when Hibbert was back in the paint to clean up any gambles. The big guy – Indiana’s barometer lately – landed smack in the middle of his Game 1 (scoreless) and Game 2 (28 points) performances with 14 points, five boards and three blocks. But there were at least three plays in the second half when Beal veered inside only to remember No. 55 dwells there. Each time, the Wizards’ shooting guard moved the ball to a teammate, his guys got less-than-ideal shots and Indiana won all three battles.

“I’m 6-3, 6-4. He’s 7-2. So you do the math,” Beal said. “I mean, that dude is definitely a problem down there.”

If the Pacers like the way their found identity fits over the 48 hours between games, their stalwart defense could turn into momentum and pose an even bigger problem for Wall, Beal and the rest. This was one in which Washington’s limited playoff experience showed, the worst of their eight games this spring and something to avoid for however long their postseason lasts.

For Indiana, it was like bumping into an old friend.

“It felt like how we were playing at the beginning of the year,” guard George Hill said. “Really dictatating things on the defensive end. All guys locked in together, letting our defense dictate our offense. Any time we’re playing like that with all five guys on the same page, trying to help each other in the gaps, offense’ll come easy.”

Uh, let’s not go crazy. Paul George, who scored a game-high 23, called it “probably the ugliest game of the postseason.” He added: “But this is our style of basketball. Every now and then this team is fortunate enough to get hot offensively, but what we do is play defense. We’ve struggled along the way but I honestly feel like we’re getting back to it.”

Ugly victories, after all, still are …

“I think our success has always been ugly,” Hill said. “For the last three years I’ve been here, no one wants to watch us. We didn’t have that glow or that flair or them high-caliber people who [viewers] tune in to watch us.

“That gave us that chip on our shoulder. No one expected us to be where we’re at. It’s good that no one wants to watch us.”

Seriously, the Pacers have been unwatchable for weeks entirely on merit. But Hill’s point was a worthy one, almost as meaningful as that 64th one Washington never did score.


VIDEO: Paul George discusses Game 3 victory

Numbers preview: Pacers-Wizards

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Wizards vs. Pacers, Series Preview

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – After going down three games to two, the No. 1 seed Indiana Pacers managed to escape the first round and avoid a disastrous result, considering where they were at the All-Star break.

They still have work to do to get back to the conference finals. With more traditional bigs, the Washington Wizards don’t present the unique matchup challenge that the Atlanta Hawks did, but they’re a better team on both ends of the floor, and they just dispatched the team that most resembles the Pacers.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
Stats and rankings are for the first round.

Indiana Pacers (56-26)

Beat Atlanta in 7 games.
Pace: 93.0 (7)
OffRtg: 101.6 (12)
DefRtg: 98.2 (1)
NetRtg: +3.3 (7)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Washington: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
First round: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

First-round notes:

Washington Wizards (44-38)

Beat Chicago in 5 games.
Pace: 88.1 (15)
OffRtg: 104.8 (10)
DefRtg: 100.4 (4)
NetRtg: +4.4 (4)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Indiana: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
First round: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

First-round notes:

The matchup

Season series: Pacers won 2-1 (home team won all three games)
Pace: 93.7
IND OffRtg: 93.6 (28th vs. WAS)
WAS OffRtg: 82.0 (29th vs. IND)

Matchup notes:

Suspensions for Pacers’ Butler, George?

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: Mike Scott and George Hill scuffle in the second quarter of Game 6 between the Pacers and Hawks

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The Indiana Pacers will host Game 7 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse Saturday. But it remains to be seen if their biggest star, All-Star swingman Paul George, will be a part of the action.

Both George and reserve forward Rasual Butler stepped off of the bench and onto the court during a second quarter scuffle between George Hill and Atlanta Hawks reserve forward Mike Scott in the Pacers’ Game 6 win Thursday night at Philips Arena.

At least one expert on the topic, former NBA vice president of basketball operations Stu Jackson, believes a suspension is forthcoming for someone …

Hill and Scott drew technical fouls for their shoving match. George and Butler took small steps but remained in the bench area. But the league has historically held players to the letter of the law in these cases.

The rule states that “during an altercation, all players not participating in the game must remain in the immediate vicinity of their bench. Violators will be suspended, without pay, for a minimum of one game and fined up to $50,000.”

Jackson was the man who handed out one-game suspensions in the 2007 playoffs when then Phoenix Suns big men Amar’e Stoudemire and Boris Diaw left the “immediate vicinity of their bench” after Robert Horry body blocked Steve Nash into the scorer’s table in Game 4 of a series between the Suns and San Antonio Spurs.

“The rule with respect to leaving the bench area during an altercation is very clear,” Jackson said then. “Historically, if you break it, you will get suspended, regardless of what the circumstances are.”

Pacers coach Frank Vogel said he wasn’t worried about it after Game 6.

“I haven’t seen (the video), but somebody told me about it,” he said. “I’m not concerned with any suspensions until we hear something.”

Pacers get their game 7 at home

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com

VIDEO: Mike Scott’s dunk over Ian Mahinmi was a show-stopper but not enough win Game 6

ATLANTA — So this is what all the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference fuss was about.

The Indiana Pacers freaked out about it, obsessed over it all summer, from the moment they walked off the floor on the losing end of things last summer in Miami in the Eastern Conference finals.

They stalked from the day training camp opened and still fretted over it as their season careened from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows.

It was their mission this season to earn it, knowing full well they might need to use the home-court advantage that comes with it to get out of a jam at some point during these playoffs.

But so soon?

In the first round?

Against the Atlanta Hawks?

Of course not.

But it doesn’t matter now. None of the minutiae matters with their entire season down to this one, winner-take-all Game 7 Saturday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

Whatever missteps have been made along the way become background music to their playoff soundtrack if they can string together back-to-back wins against that 38-win Hawks team that has had their number the past month, both in Atlanta and Indianapolis.

Thursday night’s dramatic come-from-behind 95-88 win before a sellout crowd at Philips Arena was the season saver.

History, and more importantly infamy, will have to wait.

“This was a gutsy win for our guys,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said.

Saturday night’s Game 7 is a must-win … to save face, the future and the Pacers from the humiliation of one of the greatest collapses of a so-called contender in league history.

“It’s zero-zero. One game. It’s tournament time,” Pacers All-Star Paul George said after he and his teammates avoided becoming just the fifth No. 1 seed in NBA history to fall to a No. 8 seed. “It’s win or go home time. So we’ve got to play a great game, because we know as well as they know that they’re capable of beating us on our home floor.”

The Pacers haven’t played one of those great games in forever. They’ve managed to just get by up to this point in this series. They outlasted the Hawks in Game 6 more than anything, staying in it long enough for George, who was in foul trouble early and throughout the game, and David West to take turns playing hero down the stretch.

It was the execution of a delicate two-man dance the Pacers have not been able to rely upon throughout this series.

Faced with a choice between survival and surrender, the Pacers’ two best and most reliable players snatched away a game the Hawks simply gave away. They scored 24 points each, West scored 12 of his in the fourth quarter on 5-for-6 shooting from the floor after making just 5-for-14 before halftime.

The Hawks were up 84-79 after a Jeff Teague 17-footer with 3:16 to play sent the crowd into a frenzy. Three disastrous offensive possessions later — Hawks center Pero Antic turned the ball over, then missed a wild 26-footer followed by a missed 17-footer from Paul Millsap —  and West finished things off on a clear out with a driving runner with 1:07 to play that put the Pacers up 87-85 and ahead for good.

Lance Stephenson added 21 points and 9 rebounds and the Pacers got quality minutes and production from Ian Mahinmi, Chris Copeland and C.J. Watson on a night when Vogel decided regulars Roy Hibbert (12 minutes), Luis Scola (12 seconds) and Even Turner (DNP — coach’s decision) weren’t a part of the solution.

“We tried some different lineups,” said West, who added 11 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals to his statistical tally in Game 6. “Coach just rolled the dice. Down the stretch I was talking to Paul down the stretch and I told him it would be just me and him down the stretch. I thought our team did a great job closing the show. We got enough stops. Ian was great on Millsap, and it paid off for us.”

We won’t know for sure until Saturday if it was a temporary fix or not.

What’s clear, however, is that these Hawks have no fear in them where the Pacers are concerned. Never mind that 0-8 record all-time in road Game 7s.

They bounced back from a Game 4 loss and stroked the Pacers in Game 5, leading by as many as 30 points as they turned the home crowd against George, West, Stephenson and a frantic bunch that didn’t handle the business at hand. The Hawks shot the cover off the ball that night, knocking down 15 of their 27 shots from deep compared to just nine of 35 in Game 6.

“They’ve burned us a couple of times,” West said. “We’ve had some stretches where we didn’t put the ball in the basket. We just can’t allow those stretches where we allow 20 points to our three or four. We’ve got to make sure we get a shot on goal on every possession, because they are so explosive, especially from the three-point line. We’ve played all year for this, to get Game 7s in our building. The energy is going to be great. We just have to handle our business.”

If only it were that simple for the crew that has courted this moment and this stage for so long!


VIDEO: The Pacers stayed calm down the streetch to force a Game 7 against the Hawks

 

Blogtable: The Vogel dilemma

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Winners, losers so far | The Vogel dilemma



VIDEO: Inside the NBA looks at the Hawks’ last win over the Pacers and the rest of the series

> We’ve asked before, but it’s critical now: Is there anything Frank Vogel can do?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: It’s awfully late, perhaps too late for Vogel to make a bold move and stop his team’s freefall. But the straw he can grasp at is sitting down Roy Hibbert completely for what’s left of the Atlanta series. The big fellow has a bad matchup defensively vs. Pero Antic in the Hawks’ “stretch 5″ attack and doesn’t have a comparable edge at the other end because he’s not a go-to low-post guy. Get Chris Copeland or Luis Scola in there and see what happens, Hibbert’s fragile confidence be darned. Vogel soon enough will have either a new series – or a long offseason – to rebuild it.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Vogel could take one of those hammers out of the bag from my previous answer. Or he could try to find a jersey that would fit 57-year-old Larry Bird. Or call the bowling alley for Andrew Bynum.  It’s not exactly the time to turn the season over to Ian Mahinmi. All you can do is appeal to their pride and their professionalism — if there’s any left — and go back to the fundamentals of training camp.

Frank Vogel (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE)

Frank Vogel (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE)

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: I’m not a religious man. But I pray.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: No, it was critical before. We know this with hindsight because whatever funk the Pacers fell in, they never really came out. An occasional good moment, a lot of bad moments as the problems lingered. As for now, I would obviously consider a lineup change. That’s the natural reaction, and it’s not like I would have anything to lose at this point. Keep digging for answers.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: He has to play small and short. By “small,” I mean that he should play David West at center, give Chris Copeland some playing time, space the floor, and defend the floor-spacing Hawks. By “short,” I mean to limit the rotation to guys that might actually contribute in a positive fashion. Play George Hill, Lance Stephenson, C.J. Watson and Paul George on the perimeter, with West, Copeland and Luis Scola up front. Evan Turner’s been as much of a disaster defensively as Roy Hibbert has been offensively.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Critical? How about a Code Red? If you’re Vogel, all you can really do is pray the Hawks stop knocking down 3-pointers. Seriously, I don’t think there is any coming back from the humiliation that the Pacers are drowning in against the Hawks. Vogel is a good man, a good coach and probably doesn’t deserve everyone piling on him right now. That said, it’s ultimately his responsibility to make sure his team is prepared for the challenges of the playoffs. And the fact that the No. 1 seed Pacers cannot solve the No. 8 seed Hawks speaks volumes about the disconnect between Vogel and his locker room.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball Blog: As a lifelong Hawks watcher, the most chilling thing to me was at the end of Game 5 when Vogel finally put in Chris Copeland and the Pacers suddenly looked alive. He’s had that option tethered to the bench most of the season — playing smaller and creating more drive-and-kick space. But that mostly requires Hibbert on the bench. Maybe they stumbled into it, but the Pacers seem to have found a lineup concerned with action than reaction. Whether or not Vogel can commit to go small and seat franchise center Roy Hibbert on the bench the rest of the way against the Hawks is another matter altogether.

Pacers survive, save season … for at least another day

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: Paul George talks to Rachel Nichols about the Pacers’ season-saving Game 4 effort in the win over the Hawks

ATLANTA — Survive and advance.

It’s a no-drills edict for each and every team in the NBA playoff field, but one that resonates in a particular way for a crew  built on the bedrock the Indiana Pacers have been crafted upon. An ugly win somewhere else is viewed differently in a locker room where David West rules the roost and a self-made, homegrown All-Star like Paul George reigns as the biggest talent.

There couldn’t have been a more fitting end to the Pacers’ physical Game 4 altercation with the Atlanta Hawks, a potentially series- and season-saving 91-88 slugfest that saw the No. 1 seed Pacers even things up with the No. 8 seed Hawks at 2-2 heading back for Game 5 Monday in Indianapolis.

George and West, with their back-to-back game-saving 3-pointers in a 21-second span with just two minutes to play, lifted the Pacers, at least temporarily, out of a funk that threatened their entire season.

It was twilight zone time when West sank his 25-footer, if for no other reason than he’s the last person on the Pacers’ roster anyone would expect to be in a position to take and make that shot. Roy Hibbert, who sat out the entire fourth quarter for the second straight game, was going wild as the Pacers rallied for a 89-85 lead with 1:33 to play. Meanwhile, Lance Stephenson, whose been known to lose his cool a time or two in the heat of the moment, is preaching for everyone to stay calm, reminding his teammates that there was plenty of game still to be played.

“We needed that moment,” Stephenson said. “we needed this game. We turned it around, it’s 2-2 and I feel like it’s 0-0 now. The whole game I felt like we played hard, but those last three minutes of the game I saw that will to win that had been missing. It was good to see it come back.”

The immediate effect was obvious. The music was on in the Pacers’ locker room after the game. There weren’t any questions about what’s ailing them and why they can’t seem to get right, on and off the floor. There was a reprieve from the inquisition that they’ve had to endure for weeks. An off-day roasting during a film session with Frank Vogel and his staff helped clear the air and refocus this beleaguered group as they hunkered down for what, until Monday, was their biggest game of the season.

“It’s the difference between a win and a loss,” Vogel said. “With playoff wins and playoff losses, there’s a great elation when you win and a great disappointment when you lose. There’s a big difference.”

For all of the grief they’ve taken since the All-Star break, it should be noted that the Pacers responded to their season being minutes away from being on the brink in the only way they know how, with a guts-to-the-floor second-half effort that had become their trademark early on this season.

They had to lock down on defense with 6.9 seconds to play as the Hawks attempted to tie the game and send it to overtime. The Hawks had to settle for a 27-footer from Pero Antic — not Kyle Korver, Paul Millsap or Jeff Teague, all of whom had shredded the Pacers in one way or another at times in the previous 47 minutes and 53 seconds — that bounced off the rim as time expired.

“We’re a half-court defensive team. We take pride in guarding guys half court,” a weary George said after playing a game-high 44 minutes and collecting team highs in points (24) and rebounds (10) to go along with 5 assists. “We knew Kyle Korver was the main option. George Hill did a great job fighting him over the screen and not letting him come back off. From that point, David West was locked in on his guy and we just forced them to take a tough shot.”

The Pacers know they don’t have to play Mozart to survive the Hawks in the first round of these playoffs. They can get by with chopsticks, provided they play like the No. 1 seed and not some shell of that team.

There are matchups that will cause problems. The Hawks, perhaps more than any other team in the Eastern Conference playoff field, present many. But this series is back on track, a best-of-three with the Pacers once again holding the home court advantage.

That’s what made Game 4, and those final 12 minutes, so unbelievably critical to the Pacers’ season-long cause.

“This game could have gotten away from us and we’d be down 3-1,” said George, who missed two free throws with 7.5 seconds to play that could have made that final defensive stand unnecessary. “It’s going to be a long series. This team is not going away. We just have to build some consistency.”

It has to come one game and one step at a time as the Pacers frantically rebuild their collective confidence, starting with Hibbert, Hill and Stephenson and on down the line.

“We know that this series may go to seven [games], you never know,” Hill said. “When Boston put together their Big 3, just about every series they had went to seven. Listen, we’re up for the challenge. And no matter what happens throughout the course of a game or a series, we’re built for this. We’re built to be physical, to be tough and to grind it out.”


VIDEO: The Pacers held on for a Game 4 win over the Hawks in Atlanta

Morning Shootaround — April 25



VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played April 24

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Hibbert, Hill still struggling | Warriors open to name change? | Westbrook, Durant not looking for each other? | Big O says Anthony should sign with Houston

No. 1: What to do about Hibbert, Hill? — The Indiana Pacers wake up this morning staring at a 2-1 deficit in their first-round series with the Atlanta Hawks and with the knowledge that All-Star center Roy Hibbert has been a non-factor thus far. How does top-seeded Indiana get back on track? How does it get Hibbert involved in things again? And, oh yeah, how does it get point guard George Hill — who has also struggled mightily against his Hawks counter part, Jeff Teague — on track, too? Mark Montieth of Pacers.com digs into the issues with both players:

Whether Hibbert starts or not isn’t that big of a concern. It’s how long Vogel stays with him when he’s struggling. Hibbert played just 19 minutes on Thursday, one less than his backup, Ian Mahinmi. The Hawks present an impossible matchup for him defensively, and if he can’t score he has little to offer. If he only rebounded and defended the lane, he’d be the role player the Pacers need, but he’s not doing that, either.

Hibbert grabbed 16 rebounds in the season-opening win over Orlando, and hasn’t matched that since. His rebound total reached double figures in 10 of the first 20 games, and he had eight or more in five of the others. But, he’s grabbed 10 or more rebounds in just seven of the last 39 games, none in the playoffs.

Hill presents another challenge for Vogel. He hit just 1-of-11 shots on Thursday, and was guilty of a crucial turnover and defensive lapse late in the game. Hill’s a point guard who admits he doesn’t really want to be a point guard, and is usually at his best when he’s playing off-guard. He’s not assertive by nature, and seems to have to remind himself constantly to be aggressive.

Hibbert and Hill – both of whom scored four points in the game – were hardly the only factors in the loss. The effort wasn’t playoff caliber, proven by the difference in free throw attempts. Atlanta had 37, the Pacers had 21. George, although producing his third double-double of the series, hit just 3-of-11 shots, and wasn’t the defensive force he had been in Game 2.

It’s easy to call for a new starting lineup, or for benching starters altogether. The best coaches, though, avoid over-reaction, and the ever-upbeat Vogel has done that well throughout his time with Pacers. This, however, is the most desperate circumstance he’s faced. He says he loves the chess match of coaching in the playoffs, but another loss on Saturday puts him in danger of checkmate.

He has to figure a way out. And he might have to do it without two key pieces.

(more…)

Hibbert, Hill stymie Pacers’ revival

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

George Hill and Roy Hibbert have struggled with production since the All-Star break. (Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images)

George Hill and Roy Hibbert have struggled to find their way of late. (Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images)

There is a particular reason why the Chicago Bulls have mourned the absence of All-Star point guard Derrick Rose and, in healthier times, felt confident about their chances against the two-time defending champion Miami Heat:

Center and point guard. The two positions where Miami has seemed most vulnerable through its three-Finals, two-titles reign over the NBA. And the two positions where the Bulls, with Rose and Joakim Noah (even before Noah’s blossoming in 2013-14), held distinct match-up advantages.

And then there are the Indiana Pacers, where center Roy Hibbert and point guard George Hill have embodied and driven – in an especially vicious circle these days – their team’s struggle against the Heat specifically and in the season’s stretch drive generally.

Hibbert is the one taking most of the grief, an obvious lightning rod given his stature literally and in Indiana’s preferred scheme of things. He’s a 7-foot-2 center who has come up about 4-foot-11 of late, shrinking at the task of nailing down the East’s top playoff berth.

Over the past 10 games, Hibbert has averaged 9.0 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.3 blocks while shooting 32.9 percent, all south of his expected numbers. His decline since the All-Star break is nothing short of alarming – from offensive and defensive ratings of 104 and 95 through his first 52 games, to 91 and 106 over the past 27.

And the past week went by almost without so much as a ping from the Pacers’ missing aircraft carrier: A nightmarish nine minutes, scoreless and without rebounds in a blowout loss to Atlanta. A game in street clothes in Milwaukee as part of coach Frank Vogel‘s rattle-whatever-cage-remains decision to sit out his starters. And just five points and one rebound in nearly 34 minutes in the smackdown in Miami, with the Heat taking apparent glee in finally solving their Hibbert headaches.

Hill, the team’s unassertive point guard – and one of the NBA’s few where “playmaker” can be subbed in as a synonym to mix up the phrasings – has been just as disappointing in the Pacers’ desperation to stop their swoon. Averages of 8.3 points and 3.4 assists, while hitting 42.4 percent of his field-goal attempts and 69.2 percent of his free throws.

He, too, has stepped into an open elevator shaft post-All Star break in some of the advanced metrics: true-shooting percentage down from 57.9 to 53.3, and a combo drop in offensive and defensive ratings from 117/98 to 110/112. If those were blood pressure numbers, the Pacers’ title hopes already would be dead.

All of this is a way of pointing out how challenging the Pacers’ matinee game against Oklahoma City (1 p.m. ET, ABC) figures to be Sunday. The gap between NBA Most Valuable Player favorite Kevin Durant and Indiana’s Paul George, a likely fourth- or fifth-place finisher, already is vast enough. But for Hill, matched up with the Thunder’s angry young man at the point, Russell Westbrook, it will be all he can do to hang on defensively, offense – no matter how badly Indiana needs a fix there – be danged.

For Hibbert, facing low-center-of-gravity Kendrick Perkins, relentlessly active Serge Ibaka and fundamentally sound Nick Collison is no way to get his game healthy. Last Sunday against the Hawks, Hibbert made Pero Antic look like Dave Cowens in his prime and had Pacers peeps excusing the (ahem) tough match-up. At Miami Friday, it was old reliable Udonis Haslem staying low, beating Hibbert to his spots and pushing him around to exploit that flamingo-like base the Pacers center seems to set.

Hill, George and the other Indiana players aren’t absolved when Hibbert struggles, either, given their lackadaisical entry passes and tendency seemingly to look away from the big man rather than establish him in the paint. Maybe they’ve grown tired of his soft left-handed hook shots and mid-range jumpers that rattle out, when what they crave is a nasty, rim-attacker who utilizes his greatest asset.

All in all, with the East’s No. 1 seed still remarkably in play, what might have teased at a potential Finals showdown – OKC vs. IND – looks more like a contender facing a calamity.