The Indiana Pacers took a commanding 2-0 lead to start their series with the Atlanta Hawks, but since the games have shifted to Atlanta, they've lost two straight games and have struggled offensively. In Game 3, Indiana scored only 69 points on 27 percent shooting from the field. Indiana put more points on the board in Game 4, scoring 91 points, but still only shot 38 percent from the field.
While Indiana's defense is their strength, that doesn't mean it can mail it in on the offensive side of the ball. The Pacers' lack of perimeter shooters has been exposed, while they've ignored the most efficient player through the series, Roy Hibbert. Their shot distribution chart shows an alarming reliance on outside shooting, as they've taken 27.8 percent of their shots from beyond the arc. Of the 330 shots they've taken in the series, 164 have been from mid-range or beyond.
Indiana Pacers playoff shot distribution
When their shot distribution chart is lined up with their shot performance chart, it's baffling that Indiana would continue to force the issue from distance.
Indiana Pacers playoff shot performance
The Pacers had the 26th-ranked field goal percentage in the NBA at 43 percent during the regular season. In the playoffs, that percentage has dropped even further to 39 percent. More to the point: It's hard to win playoff series shooting 39 percent from the field. Indiana needs to stop directing its offense to the mid-range and put the ball in the post with Hibbert.
Hibbert is the only player on the Pacers who is putting up at least 45 percent shooting from the field. His mid-range shooting hasn't been good, but when Hibbert is around the rim or on the left block, he has been effective.
Roy Hibbert's playoff shot chart
Here are six of the few times the Pacers have used Hibbert as a weapon to get easy points. They need to mimic these sequences far more often if they are to win the series.
Play No. 1
The Hawks have not been double-teaming Hibbert in the post, nor have they been digging down into the paint to stop his movements. Every so often, the Pacers actually remember that Hibbert is 7'2 and can shoot over outstretched arms.
If the Hawks are going to let Hibbert play one-on-one in the post, the Pacers have to get the ball into his hands like they do here.
Play No. 2
The Pacers isolate Hibbert in the post against Johan Petro again.
Jeff Teague sinks into the paint, but doesn't commit to disrupting Hibbert, instead watching him step around Petro. If Teague had doubled down, Hibbert could have passed out to D.J. Augustin on the perimeter.
Instead, Hibbert takes advantage of Petro and gets another good look in the paint.
Play No. 3
The Hawks are not game-planning specifically to stop Hibbert, even though they have two players on him to start. As we roll forward, that will not continue.
Atlanta traps Paul George, who passes to Tyler Hansbrough. At this point, Ivan Johnson leaves Teague alone on Hibbert under the rim and helps on Hansbrough. Because the Hawks trapped George, they show their hand in focusing on perimeter defense and lessening their presence in the paint.
What was once two players taking Hibbert out of the play turns into a mismatch, as Hibbert overpowers Teague and seals on the inside. The decision to double Hansbrough came out of necessity because of the defensive breakdown.
Hansbrough misses the shot attempt, but Hibbert grabs the offensive rebound and dunks it around three out-of-position defenders.
Play No. 5
If the Hawks pack the paint to stop Hibbert, this is what should happen. If there's an open man on the perimeter, Hibbert can find them one pass away. This clean looks is essential for a team struggling from the outside.
Play No. 6
This is another example of how the Pacers should be using Hibbert. Indiana needs high-percentage field goals more than anything. Without extra defenders around Hibbert, the paint is open to be attacked. Hibbert can be a double-threat for the Pacers as a post scorer and facilitator, which can be used to keep the Hawks' defense honest. Either Hibbert can get a high-quality shot off, or the Pacers can use off-ball movement and penetrate to the rim.
The Hawks are scheming around perimeter play, and the Pacers have not adjusted their offense. Instead, through Games 3 and 4 combined, they shot under 33 percent from the field. If the Pacers establish Hibbert in the post, three things can happen for Indiana:
1. Hibbert puts up high-percentage field goals in the post.
2. They Hawks send extra defenders and Hibbert finds the open man.
3. The Pacers cut into the paint off the ball and take advantage of the Hawks' focusing on the perimeter, opening up the paint.
All of these are better options than shooting from the perimeter repeatedly and waiting for shots to fall. Play the percentages and let Hibbert in the post be a focus for an offense that needs to play methodically. Hibbert is on the Pacers' payroll for $56 million until 2016, and it's in Indiana's best interest to start treating him as such.