Amid the reports that Vogel was coaching for his job, there had to be a balancing act. What was more important: three years of growth, including taking Miami to seven games in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, or the sudden three month downfall of a once dominant team that might not make it out of the first round?
Surely the past would win out. Is three months of bad basketball and one poor matchup in the first round reason enough to fire the Eastern Conference All-Star coach?
But game five ushered in a failure so monstrous – and one that falls directly on Vogel – that he has to be one loss away from losing his position as head coach of the Indiana Pacers.
Indiana entered the second quarter leading 21-20, and over the next five minutes Vogel may have lost his job. The Hawks went on a 20-4 run to take a 15-point lead, and Vogel essentially watched it happen with no response for stopping it.
"It was frustrating because we didn’t make a change," Paul George said. "Shot after shot, we let them run the same action, same shot. We didn’t do (anything)."
The Pacers are using ice to defend this side pick and roll. Essentially it is the traditional Indiana sag defense on the pick and roll. But that traditional defense has been torched by Atlanta because Scola, or any Pacer big man, has struggled with two jobs.
"Scola can only do so much. He was doing his job, being there for the point guard’s penetration, and then we’re asking him to fly out to a shooter," Paul George said. He’s gotta get help."
He needs help because Scott was shooting uncontested.
Three times the Hawks went to this, and three times Scola failed to close out in time. When George says that Scola is "doing his job", but Atlanta still gets up three wide-open threes, then you have a strategic issue – a coaching issue.
So what was Vogel’s response? He put Roy Hibbert in the game. So Indiana still had two big men on the court that couldn’t defend on the perimeter.
The whole matchup problem the Hawks present is playing five perimeter players, which eliminates the backbone of the Pacer defense. And when Scott put on the perfect display of how Atlanta exposes Indiana, Vogel went to the player that has the most trouble defending the perimeter, and he left Scola in the game.
The result was even uglier, as the Hawks just out ran the Pacers in transition.
Hibbert and Scola are way behind the ball, which means Hill has to defend Scott in the paint. Well, this happens to leave Kyle Korver open on the three-point line, and the Hawks get three more points.
Next time down for Atlanta, all five Hawks beat Scola and Hibbert down the court. Shelvin Mack takes an open three and misses, but the Pacers have guards trying to rebound. Scott grabs the board and puts it in for two more points.
Scola and Hibbert getting out run may be traced to effort problems. But when the head coach – and everyone else watching – knows what weaknesses his team has, and he makes no change, it is all about coaching, not effort.
But some of the Hawks monster second quarter was hot shooting, a one seed should be able to handle the barrage, especially if the offense can get some good looks. But the only way Indiana scored over the 20-4 stretch was a George Hill offensive putback, and Luis Scola taking Mike Scott into the paint.
The Pacers ran a play that looked for a Hill three then an Evan Turner post up. Later, a flare screen got Hill an open three that he missed, but that was about it for designed offense during this stretch.
With 6:58 left in the quarter, when Indiana was down 15, Vogel returned to starters. But considering the way David West explained the situation to Mike Wells of ESPN, it doesn’t appear Vogel gave them any direction as to how to stop Atlanta.
"We have to be able to make better adjustments," West said. "We just didn't respond. I have no explanation on why we gave up 40-something [points] in the second quarter. "Coach [Frank Vogel] throws [the starters] back out there and says, 'Get us out of the hole.' Just tough, particularly when a team is rolling, feeling good. We're in an uphill battle the whole game."
The strange part is that the Pacers have made adjustments in defending the Hawks and their pick and roll. In the first quarter the Pacers were switching unabashedly on ball screens. It created some mismatches, but it took away the pick and pop.
In games three and four Indiana used Paul George’s length to their advantage. Instead of straight switching, the George would hang with his man until he made the pass to the pop man. When this pass came, it was George’s responsibility, not the big man, to cover out to the shooter.
But all of that was gone in the second quarter. Vogel’s Pacers reverted to their old habits that allowed Atlanta to kick them in the teeth.
But the most damning evidence of coaching problems came from Vogel’s own mouth.
"We’re playing a team that is playing a style of play that is capable of doing what they did tonight. Since April sixth, we’ve known that," Vogel said.
They have known for over three weeks what the Hawks are able to do, but in game five on their home court, playing for the series lead, the Pacers looked helpless against basic offense that they have been beat over the head with the entire series.