The first-seeded Indiana Pacers are now just one game away from being eliminated by the eighth-seeded Atlanta Hawks who won 38 games during the regular season and are currently without Al Horford.
Roy Hibbert is playing beyond awful, the bench isn't producing and the Pacers are making the Hawks look like world-beaters.
Take it from Yahoo! Sports' Kelly Dwyer, who describes the pivotal second quarter of Atlanta's Game 5 win:
This isn't hyperbole. Once again, the Pacers are completely out of sorts offensively, while still struggling to put up some semblance of a fight defensively against a Hawks offense that ranked 18th in offensive efficiency during the regular season.
Indiana owned the NBA's top defense throughout the regular season, and yet the Pacers gave up 41 second-quarter points on their own court in this defeat, giving up an 81 percent shooting mark to Atlanta and letting the Hawks miss just two three-pointers in 11 tries in that run.
For the Pacers to turn their fortunes around in this series, they have to do two things.
Go Small Ball
The Hawks thrive on the long ball. Ironically, they've been shooting better at Bankers Life Fieldhouse than they are at Phillips Arena against the Pacers in the playoffs (41.9 percent on the road as opposed to 35.4 percent at home).
Stats don't lie. In its three wins, Atlanta shot 41.8 percent from beyond the arc while it shot just 35 percent in its two losses, per NBA.com.
As Dwyer noted, the Hawks' nine threes proved to be the backbreaker. The Pacers simply allowed Mike Scott to play like Reggie Miller during that span.
Even Butler University alumnus Shelvin Mack, who scored 20 points, got in on the act.
So what's Indiana to do in these desperate times?
They should go small ball.
The unit of George Hill, C.J. Watson, Paul George, Chris Copeland and David West gave the Hawks all sorts of fits in the second half in Game 5.
Atlanta shot just 2 of 9 and turned the ball over four times during a fourth-quarter stretch which saw what was once a 30-point lead go down to just nine at 96-87.
Watson's made some critical buckets while Copeland—who nailed two fourth-quarter threes—played great defense during his time on the floor.
Let's say this loud and clear for coach Frank Vogel to hear: We want Chris Copeland.
With this, the Indianapolis Star's Bob Kravitz sums up Copeland's value beautifully in his April 28 article:
If Vogel doesn't find minutes for Copeland in Game 6, and maybe a Game 7, something is desperately wrong. The minute Copeland came in, the offense began humming. The spacing was better. The shots came more easily.
There was energy, passion, a buzz on the floor and in the arena. Soon, a 27-point deficit was down to nine points after a C.J. Watson layup.
Fans have been screaming for Copeland, and in this case, the fans are right. He's a lot more than a victory cigar. Give some time and an opportunity, he might be the Pacers' saving grace.
Bench Roy Hibbert
This one is pretty obvious.
Hibbert's funk has dragged on for months, and it reached a new low in Game 5 against the Hawks with zero points, zero rebounds, one assist and one block, per ESPN stats.
For the series, he's averaging just 4.8 points (on 31 percent shooting), 3.4 rebounds and 0.6 blocks.
It must be the second coming of David Harrison or Greg Dreiling.
Wow. Just wow.
Pacers.com's Mark Montieth chimes in on the Hibbert issue on April 28:
First up for consideration should be benching Roy Hibbert, who appears to have regained his enthusiasm but still went scoreless in 12 minutes, 13 seconds on Monday.
Hibbert simply doesn't match up well against Atlanta's spread-eagle offense, and those minutes would have been awfully handy to have back at the end of the game when the Pacers rallied from a 30-point deficit to within nine with four minutes still to play, but ultimately ran out of time.
With this, Indiana should start George Hill, Lance Stephenson, Paul George, David West and Luis Scola in Game 5. Watson and Copeland should be the main shock troopers for Indy.
As for the center coming off the bench, Ian Mahinmi, who has been playing better than Hibbert, should get the nod.
There seems to be no end in sight to Roy Hibbert's struggles. The once proud All-Star, The Great Wall of Hibbert, has crumbled.
If the Pacers manage to win the series against Atlanta, Hibbert should get a shot at redemption.
If Indy fails to get past the Hawks, could we have just seen the last of Roy Hibbert in an Indiana Pacers uniform?
We most probably have.
The Parting Shot
The Pacers, whose bench has been an issue for the past two seasons, also need to get more production from their second unit.
In Game 5, the Hawks bench (featuring Mack, Scott and Lou Williams) outscored Indy's 45-23. Copeland should help address that issue with more minutes in Game 6.
However, there isn't much help beyond that. Should Vogel opt to start Scola, both Hibbert and Evan Turner don't figure to make the Pacers' bench situation any better.
If Copeland, Watson and Mahinmi produce in Game 6, Indy still has a puncher's chance at salvaging this series.
And then there is the Pacers' free-throw shooting.
Indiana shot just 11 of 18 from the line in Game 5, with West missing four, per Yahoo! Sports. He and George also missed four crucial free throws in Game 4 that could have put the Hawks away for good.
To sum things up, it's now almost impossible to figure out these Pacers. Ever since their tailspin after the All-Star break, we thought they would be the juggernaut they once were at the beginning of the season come playoff time.
We all thought wrong.
Now, unless Indiana pulls out all the stops, its once-promising season will end with a resounding thud. By going small ball and benching Roy Hibbert, the Pacers should have a second lease on life in the postseason.
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