Things have been bad for the Pacers for about two months, during which the team took on the surly, listless post-holiday air of an unhappy family too long indoors. But even when they were playing their worst, it was hard to imagine this. Down 2-1 series to the eighth-seeded Hawks, the Pacers are in a terrible place, and nobody outside of Adrian Wojnarowski's Rolodex really has any idea of what is going on.
Whatever hopes that were whipped up by the Pacers' victory in Game 2 were quickly and definitively dashed last night. They went down 98-85 to the Hawks last night, and they went down ugly. The box score is plenty hideous—37 percent from the field, 20 points allowed off turnovers, 5-of-20 from three—but it doesn't do enough to capture just how poorly Indiana played. There were stretches during last night's game when the Pacers seemed to regard the ball as some large, misshapen molten rock. They couldn't pass the thing. They couldn't hold onto it. It was as if everyone on the roster had his skills stolen by the Monstars. I mean, look at this crap:
There's no good way to explain what has happened to the Pacers. Everyone is healthy, as far as we know, and the Hawks don't present any particularly thorny matchup problems. (Jeff Teague has his moments, and Paul Millsap is great and all, but this isn't the 2007 Warriors. Hell, the Hawks shot only 38 percent from the floor last night.) To all appearances, this is just a team that seems to have forgotten how to play basketball. They are depressing bunch to watch, especially Roy Hibbert, who has scored 18 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in three games, moving up and down the court like an Ent in shorts. It's gotten so bad for
the former defensive player of the year Hibbert that Frank Vogel wouldn't rule out benching him for the next game:
When pressed one last time about whether or not he'll keep Hibbert in that first five, Vogel still wouldn't give a definitive answer.
"We'll see," he said, "… probably."
Even if Vogel benches Hibbert and that somehow solves the Pacers problems with the Hawks, does it really matter? The next round isn't going to get any easier, and the Pacers have gone two months without showing any real spark. They may yet be able to scratch out a series victory over the Hawks, but there's no reason to believe they are going any further than that.
On Wednesday, we cracked some jokes about likely explanations for the Pacers collapse, but with each loss those scenarios start to feel less like jokes and more like real possibilities. There's a non-zero chance that we'll find out next week they were all boning each other's wives. At least that would begin to explain some things.