Truth is, the Indiana Pacers were lucky to have forced a game 7. Lucky that David West is still on their team.
West activated beast mode when called upon in the last 3 minutes of the game with the Pacers down 84-79. First he hit a couple of free throws and a 19-foot jumper to get the Pacers within 1, before George Hill scored on a layup to give the Pacers the lead. Then, with the game tied at 85 under a minute to go, West hits a running floater to put the Pacers up by 2. Paul George and Hill would combine for 6/6 free throws to extend the lead to 5, and West would score again after spinning away from the intentional foul to put the game out of reach.
West finished with a beastly 24, 11 and 6, and Paul George wasn’t too bad either, filling up the stat sheet again with 24, 8 and 3. Lance Stephenson came to play with a lot of energy as well and had 21 and 9. George Hill had a quiet but solid game with 14, 4 and 4, including a big three-pointer at the half-time buzzer to give the Pacers a 5-point lead at the break.
Frank Vogel refused to divulge potential lineup and rotation changes before the game, and opted to continue using the same starting lineup. Yes, that meant starting and playing Roy Hibbert, who has regressed more than Benjamin Button this series. By the time he subbed Hibbert out in the first quarter, the Pacers were already down 15-5. Not a smart move and it could have cost the Pacers their season. Hibbert played a few more minutes in the second half when Ian Mahinmi was in foul trouble and finished with zero points, 2 rebounds and 4 fouls in 12 minutes with a plus-minus of -12. I know Frank doesn’t want to destroy whatever little confidence Roy has left, but seriously, with the season on the line it’s silly to look forward to the next series.
The first obvious rotation change was to bring in Chris Copeland (at last), and Cope didn’t do great on paper — 5 points, 3 rebounds and 3 turnovers in 18 minutes, but he did have a positive impact in terms of spacing the floor. What is telling is that he was +7 and essentially erased the deficit incurred before they subbed Hibbert out.
The other change was not playing Evan Turner at all, going with veteran Rasual Butler for just 2 minutes, and only played Luis Scola for a single inbounds play at the end of the game. It’s a little baffling because though Scola has been up and down he’s played extremely hard and has been a spark on the offensive end when the team needed him.
Anyways…just like that, the Pacers are going back to Bankers Life Fieldhouse for game 7. Not exactly the game 7 they were thinking of at the start of the season, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.
I’m hoping Frank will make a few more tweaks before game 7, which has been scheduled for 5:30pm ET on Saturday (there will be a record 3 game 7s that day with Thunder-Grizzlies and Clippers-Warriors following Pacers-Hawks). For starters, just don’t play Hibbert. Explain to him how they’ll need him for the next round, but if they play him there might not be a next round. Play Copeland a little more, and give Scola a chance to throw up a few mid-range shots to see if he’s got it.
A very underrated stat from the game is that the Pacers hit 23-27 free throws from the line, which they will need to do again in game 7. More importantly, they attempted more free throws than the Hawks, who were 21-24. Stop sending them to the line and the Pacers will have a much better chance of winning.
One potential wrinkle for game 7 is that Paul George and Rasual Butler strayed from the bench during a second quarter scuffle between George Hill and Mike Scott — they got tangled up on a rebound and Hill took exception to a WWE move that could have broken his arm, so he pointed his finger in Scott’s face and Scott retaliated with a two handed shove to Hill’s head.
The NBA rules state that during an altercation players not participating in the game are not allowed the leave the “vicinity” of the bench area. The video is below, but as you can see, Butler took a couple of steps onto the court, as did George, before assistants pushed them back behind the sideline. In 2007, Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw were both controversially suspended for leaving the bench area, but that was apparently 20-25 feet. Butler probably got foot beyond the sideline whereas George got about a step inside. Neither appeared to be running in to escalate things.
Stu Jackson, who handed down the punishment in 2007 but is no longer with the NBA, said on Twitter that he would give Butler a suspension because he had strayed from the “vicinity”, but George would not be punished if it were up to him.
So my guess is George will play, and Butler probably will too, but it’s not a big deal if he’s suspended.