INDIANAPOLIS — What motivated the Indiana Pacers back in November might be hurting them in April.
Earlier this season, Frank Vogel, Paul George, David West, and the rest of the Pacers were eager to tell anyone who would listen what they were after. They wanted the one seed in the Eastern Conference and if a potential Game 7 against the Miami Heat materialized, they wanted it in Indianapolis.
The starters logged a ton of minutes and received few breaks — if any — in the process. The Pacers ran through the early part of their schedule, carrying themselves like a legitimate contender.
After an embarrassing 107-88 loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday, the Pacers’ tune has changed. No longer can they sit back, smile, and brag about the goal of capturing the one seed. The rest of the NBA has caught up to them, they’ve figured out how to defend George, how to attack the once vaunted Indiana defense, and, in some cases, they have fresher legs.
Roy Hibbert logged just 9 minutes against Atlanta before Vogel decided to bench the All-Star center. Hibbert set on the bench for the entire second half, carrying the body language of a 9-year-old sent to timeout. He didn’t score a single point or grab one rebound during his short time on the floor and left his coach and teammates having to answer the questions after the game.
“I considered resting Roy before tonight’s game, because he looks worn down,” Vogel said after the loss. “He’s a 7-2 player who’s played every game this year. He looks to me to be worn down.”
“It’s coach’s call,” George said of the decision. “He thought he saw a fatigued Roy. Pero Antic is probably one of the toughest match-ups for Roy because he spreads the floor.”
Atlanta’s offense clicked into gear from the jump, scoring 33 points in the opening quarter. The Hawks would push their lead all the way to 35, as the Pacers offered little resistance against a team missing its best player and before Sunday had yet to win a game on the road against a team with an above .500 record at the time.
The Pacers’ offense couldn’t keep up. Indiana went into half with just 23 points and finished the night shooting 41 percent from the field while missing 15 of their 20 three-point attempts. After flashing signs of life just two days ago against Toronto, the Pacers are right back to where they were — asking questions they can’t seem to find the answers to.
“We were a step slow at just about every position,” West said after pitching in 13 points. “They made us pay for it.
“This is very humbling for some of us. Some of these guys have only been in a winning environment, playoffs every year since they been in the NBA. I’m not one of those guys.”
To their credit, the Pacers didn’t quit after Hibbert’s benching and a lopsided scoreboard. Indiana’s 65 second-half points — the most they’ve scored after halftime this season — made that same scoreboard not look as disturbing as it did for a team with championship aspirations. Nevertheless, the hole they dug themselves was too deep to climb out of.
Is fatigue the Pacers’ problem? Are they worn out?
“We are,” George said when asked if the Pacers starting five was simply tired. “But a lot of people in this league are, too. I feel like we are supposed to be. We got to find a way to re-energize.”
“We got to figure out what our plan is,” Vogel added. “Our whole starting five looks worn down to me.”
With four games remaining on their regular season schedule, the Pacers have little opportunity for rest. One of those games will come next week against the Heat — a team they are a game behind of for that once coveted one seed.
Whether it be fatigue, a cramped offense, or a slipping defense — or a combination — the Pacers look lost, shocked that they have found themselves in this position. The once often talked about goal set back in October is now slipping from their grasp.
Why do you think your team is tired, Frank? “I don’t know,” he said.
Brandon Curry is the Pacers Beat Writer at the Indy Sports Report and is recognized as an accredited member of the media by the Pacers and has full media access. Follow Brandon and the ISRon Twitter.
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