Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - We have no time to waste.
It's time to fix the Indiana Pacers.
Their first-round series with Atlanta could be over by Saturday. A Hawks win in Game 2 Tuesday night would be serious cause for panic. The Pacers are 2-14 in their last 16 in Hot-lanta, so this first-round, 1-versus-8 matchup better hit Georgia 1-1 if Indiana wants to avoid one of the worst collapses in NBA history.
Call it professional courtesy, or maybe it's a kinship over Wildwood, head coach Frank Vogel's hometown, and a frequent vacation spot of yours truly, but there are some very simple solutions that will genuinely help Indiana Tuesday night.
First, let's acknowledge the Pacers have lost one game in a best-of-seven series. Knee-jerk is a phrase that could come to mind, but Indiana's loss in Game 1 was discouraging in a huge sense.
When the Pacers struggled at the end of the regular season (10-13), it was an offensive issue. Indiana didn't move the ball, and when it had the ball, inevitably, it would just turn it over.
What's troubling is this time around, Vogel has to find a better defensive scheme.
The Pacers finished second in opponents' scoring and first in opponents' field-goal percentage during the regular season. Atlanta only shot 43 percent from the floor, but it was how the Hawks did it that caused Indiana's longer- than-normal practice on Monday.
Jeff Teague torched the Pacers for 28 points and did so driving through the lane like Sherman hustled through Georgia. The real problem became if Teague got into the lane, he could kick out to Pero Antic, the Hawks' center, who is a prolific 3-point shooter. Even Paul Millsap, the power forward, can shoot, let alone the game's best long-range gunner, Kyle Korver.
But it's Antic's presence that is causing the distress. Roy Hibbert finished second to Chicago's Joakim Noah in NBA Defensive Player of the Year voting and he's an elite rim protector. Problem is, with Antic's range, Hibbert can't take out a mortgage in the paint like normal.
He has to honor Antic's shooting touch, so he can't get back into the lane quick enough to thwart Teague.
So what's the solution?
First of all, maybe Teague's primary defender should try to keep Teague in front of him a little. After all, Hibbert is supposed to be the literal last line of defense.
That means we might see Paul George, a shoo-in for an NBA All-Defensive team slot this season, cover Teague. George has a massive size advantage and extraordinary athleticism.
That's step one.
The bigger question comes regarding Hibbert. At this stage of the season, is it worth having Hibbert on the floor if he can't protect the rim? Since March 1, Hibbert is averaging 8.6 points and 4.4 rebounds per game. Those are not All-Star numbers.
But why take him out of the rotation to just replace him with Ian Mahinmi? Hibbert did hold Antic to eight points on Saturday. Is more Luis Scola the answer? No. Is going small with Evan Turner in there and David West playing center? No.
My favorite theory is that the Pacers should play more zone. That makes a little sense to me. Sure, it would cut down on Teague's penetration to an extent, but it also would free up Antic and Korver to bomb 3-pointers. which is what Indiana was protecting against in the first place.
Problem is, they barely played zone defense this season because they were so good at man-to-man defense.
"I wish we had used it more, because then I'd be more comfortable using it now," Vogel said. "That is something we're talking pretty lengthily about."
So, is the solution really to revamp your entire defensive structure because one guy beat you bad in one game and the Hawks present one of the worst- possible matchups for Indiana?
"There's risk in being who you're not," Vogel said.
Bingo. Amen. Sing it, my south Jersey shore friend.
Overreaction is natural. Also, this isn't overreacting. The Pacers need to play better defense. not necessarily alter schemes. Improvement is needed, but here's the biggest thing both Hibbert and the Pacers can do to shore up their defense (no pun intended).
Make Antic work on the defensive end, especially on the low post. Hibbert has offensively turned into a scared, lost puppy wandering in the snow, but stationing him on the blocks and feeding him in the post could get Antic into foul trouble.
Hibbert needs to be more assertive on the offensive end. In the series opener, he only attempted two free throws and Antic chalked up four personal fouls. If the Pacers make serious efforts to get him the basketball, he could probably put Antic on the bench. That means Elton Brand for the Hawks and his range is about 11 centimeters from the rim.
Hibbert takes too much of the criticism when the Pacers struggle and he's earned. He's regressed pretty rapidly over the last six weeks. During the season, Hibbert was viewed as the reason Indiana would have an advantage over the Miami Heat. Now, he's a potential liability against the under-.500 Hawks.
Getting him the basketball will enhance his defensive efforts. Atlanta is a terrible matchup for the Pacers. The Hawks take away Indiana's strength, but the Pacers are the No. 1 seed. They're in freefall and if they care about Vogel's job security, they'll get it together, starting Tuesday.
Don't change a defensive philosophy that has made you one of the best teams for months. Put a defensive stalwart like George on Teague, get Hibbert involved offensively and get your act together.
Charles Barkley said the Pacers played like "wussies." Maybe they did, but they don't need to reinvent themselves after losing one game.
Toughen up and do it now, or Wildwood won't be the same.