Not long after the Pacers fell in the opening game of their first-round series against the Atlanta Hawks, a sullen Roy Hibbert decided to tell it like it is, acknowledging that he crimped Indy's defensive style.
"We just have to get certain guys under control as a team," he said, according to the The Indianapolis Star (subscription required). "I’m sure we’ll look over film. I’m the main culprit in terms of being the weak link on defense because they have a spread-five lineup. I guess we’ll have to adjust."
Guessing is for chumps, Roy. You and your Pacers absolutely need to adjust.
The Pacers finished the regular season as the NBA's top defensive team, according to NBA.com (subscription required), and Hibbert was one of their primary defensive boons, acting as an elite rim-protector and general hindrance in the paint.
But the Hawks played a different brand of basketball on Saturday, running small for most the game. They spaced the floor and bombed away, attempting 30 three-pointers—11 of which they converted—en route to torching a usually staunch Pacers defense for 101 points.
Hibbert often found himself out of his element. Even when the Hawks weren't firing treys, they were settling for jumpers. Only 25 of their 76 shot attempts came near the paint, minimizing the impact Hibbert could have.
Kurt Helin of Pro Basketball Talk further explained the dangers of Hibbert and the Pacers failing to adjust to Atlanta's small-ball offense:
The playoffs are all about match ups and Atlanta’s spread offense is admittedly a tough one for the Pacers. Sure, the Pacers from the first half of the season would have just physically steamrolled this Atlanta team anyway, punishing them inside on offense, moving Paul George on to Teague earlier and being physical with him. This Pacers team didn’t know how to do that. Frank Vogel deserves some criticism for being slow to adjust.
A bulk of the criticism belongs to Hibbert. He failed to make a contribution on both ends of the floor.
On offense, Hibbert was his typical, clumsy, quiet self, scoring a paltry eight points on nine shots in just under 30 minutes of action. Hibbert even did his best Hawks impression, attempting one three that predictably didn't go down.
To cap it all off, he was blocked by Kyle Korver. Twice.
Talent-wise, it's clear the Pacers have a better team than Atlanta. Names on paper only go so far, though.
If the Pacers are going to win this series and show themselves as the better team, they need to alter their methods of attack on both ends of the floor. Hibbert in particular needs to step up on defense, however uncomfortable the Hawks' floor-spacing dynamic is for him, if he doesn't want to find himself riding the bench.
And if he cannot make an impact on defense, he needs to be a bruising force on offense. Use the Hawks' lack of size against them. Punish them down low like Indiana did early on.
Make necessary adjustments or risk being the weakest link that helped turn a No. 1 seed into a massive postseason letdown.
*Stats courtesy of NBA.com (subscription required).
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