The Pacers eked out game 4 to tie the series at 2-2 and were feeling confident. They thought they could just hold home court in game 5 and get two opportunities to close out the series in game 6, or in the worst case scenario, in game 7 at home.
Instead, they fell behind by 30 to the Atlanta Hawks before making a furious rally that fell painfully short. Final score 107-97.
At this stage, there is no hoping for the old Pacers of November and December, the 33-7 Pacers, to walk through that door. It’s just not happening. Forget about it. There have been too many “they’re finally back” moments over the last couple of months after each win, and they have never backed it up or built on it. Right now it’s all about survival. Win the next game — that’s it, and it will be like that for however long this playoff run goes for. And with the way things are going right now, that run could end on Thursday in game 6 in Atlanta.
The Pacers got out to an early lead, as they have done in every game this series by starting off with a lot of energy, and as with every game, the Hawks would keep their composure to retake control. Still, there were no signs that the Pacers were going to be on the wrong end of a blowout as they ended the first quarter with a 21-20 lead.
Then Mike Scott happened. The backup PF came off the Hawks bench to hit 5-5 three pointers, his fifth giving the Hawks a 48-27 lead with 5:30 left in the half. The Hawks as a team hit 9 threes in the second quarter and led 61-40 at the half. Fans rained boos down on the home team and loud jeers could be heard on the telecast as they players headed into the tunnel.
You would think the Pacers could suck it up and come out with a vengeance in the second half, but instead the lead ballooned to 30 in the first four minutes after the break. By then the game was over, but that was when the Pacers decided to play some desperate basketball. I could describe how they cut it to 9 with four minutes to go, but why torture ourselves when we know what the final score is?
All respect to the Hawks and the way they have handled themselves despite missing Al Horford, but to be honest they’re just not that good of a team. They’re streaky, yes, but they’re not that good. Which says a lot about the state of disarray these Pacers, the more talented team, are in right now.
Paul George had another gaudy stat line with 26, 12, 6, and 6 steals, but he’s not a takeover scorer who can will the team to victory by taking over the game. David West did his best with 16 and 7, but missed a lot of bunnies and was only 4-8 from the line. The whole team, in fact, did a horrible job of getting to the line, and did a worse job of converting, finishing 11-18 for the game. Lance had 16, 7 and 4, but picked up another silly technical (Vogel did as well) and somehow missed a wide open layup/dunk by wedging it between the rim and backboard. It was that kind of a night for the Pacers.
Frank Vogel deserves a lot of criticism for not having the team ready for starters, and more for not stopping the bleeding when the Hawks were making run after run. His refusal to make changes and adjustments in-game have hurt the Pacers all series. Hibbert played 12 minutes and had zero points and zero rebounds and 4 fouls. He’s not even a D-League center right now. The small line up has worked well for the Pacers all series and yet Vogel’s refusing to go with it until it’s too late. Chris Copeland and CJ Watson both deserve a lot more minutes for their energy, but Vogel didn’t bring Copeland in until the team was down 27. You don’t play the guy all year and you bring him in when the team is down 27 as a “spark”? Seriously.
So on a night the Miami Heat swept the Charlotte Bobcats (sans Al Jefferson), the Pacers find themselves facing elimination heading into game 6. They won there a couple of days ago and will need to do it again, but even if they do, there’s no guarantee they can win game 7 on their home floor. At this stage it’s best just to have zero expectations of this team because they don’t deserve it.