The Indiana Pacers were down 9-0 to start the game and as the score moved to 14-3, Frank Vogel sat the starters for the remainder of the first quarter, as the Atlanta Hawks outscored Indiana 33-11 in the first quarter. With or without the starters, things didn't move in a positive direction for the Pacers into the second quarter with more offensive woes leading to just 23 first half points, a franchise worst mark.
Indiana trailed by 32 at the half as Atlanta opened up a 35 advantage before the Pacers found some life, trimming the lead down to as close as 16 before the Hawks put up an 8-0 run early in the fourth quarter to spoil any hopes of a comeback victory. With that off the table, the Pacers drew to within 13 with a little over a minute to go, but Jeff Teague put in a pair of three pointers to make the score look a little closer to the game that was actually played.
The Pacers shot an impossibly low 20% in the first half on 7-35 shooting, with just a single assist out of the seven shots that somehow found the bottom of the net. What does 20% shooting look like? It does come with a warning as it's very graphic and not suitable for those with weak stomachs.
The most notable thing to come out of the first half was Frank Vogel sitting the starters in under six minutes. The Pacers trailing 14-3 on 1-9 shooting was more than enough for Vogel to make the switch. Things didn't improve much with the bench as the lead doubled heading into the second period. The starters returned in the second and with the lead growing to 27, Roy Hibbert's struggles continued spilling over into the second quarter with two more missed as part of his 0-5 shooting, and fresh off a turnover, Vogel made the decision to sit Hibbert in favor of Lavoy Allen.
While the Pacers offense continued being an embarrassing mess of missed layups and bad movement, the Hawks were putting on a clinic, taking a 49-19 lead on 68% shooting, putting in seven three pointers. From that point, Indiana's defensive energy improved, helpfully coinciding with Atlanta's shooting finding some of its level. The Hawks would get just one field goal in the final 6:26 of the half, which would normally be great if the Pacers didn't the half on a 6:52 field goal drought while splitting four straight trips to the free throw line for four points to close the half.
Shots began to fall in the second half Indiana did outscore Atlanta 65-52 in the second half, but when climbing back from 30, the margin for error is none and the Pacers didn't come up with trips at the line or the crucial stops necessary to erase it for good. One thing that didn't happen was Hibbert returning to the game in the second half. Hibbert sat the final 33 minutes of action, going 0 & 0 in points and rebounds.
The official line from teammates was that Hibbert was tired and a bad matchup for Pero Antic (who had a career best night of 18 points) as an explanation for him sitting out much of tonight's game. While those may be true, Hibbert's demeanor on the bench, an inability to be involved with his teammates during the game and timeouts, and declining post game interviews certainly don't play into that too well.
Vogel did hint at a possibility of resting more players with the Eastern Conference race taking another step towards clarity with Miami grabbing a win today against the Knicks. While the Pacers trail just one game with four to go, they sit two back in the loss column and just one up on their conference record tiebreaker that could disappear as quickly as their three game lead just a week ago.
Tom did see a more upbeat David West after the game, with the two day layoff setting up an interesting pair of days of practices that could help Indiana get back on track or simply continue their decline towards a huge playoff flame out. West was one of five Pacers in double figures with 13 with six rebounds and six assists coming together.
As a whole, most of the players did come out of their first half slumps to swing together a decent overall night, which given just how bad first half was, may be the best thing to look forward to. Paul George finished with 18 points, seven rebounds, and six assists. George Hill was a nice boost in the second half with 12 points and seven rebounds, five of them offensive. Ian Mahinmi played very well off the bench for Hibbert, with 10 points, but an inability to stay out of foul trouble shortened his overall impact.
The Pacers will take action again on Wednesday night when they face the Milwaukee Bucks at the Bradley Center. Indiana will try to snap a six game road losing streak and will have a great opportunity as the worst team in the league, though given Indiana's struggles as a 3-7 team in their last ten games, it's far from a guaranteed game, depending on how the team plays, how players like Hibbert respond to being benched, and how Vogel works his rotations..