Following an embarrassing loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Monday, Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert said the team was "splintering a bit" and "in a downward spiral." That spiral may have hit rock bottom on Sunday night, as Hibbert was benched in a horrendous 107-88 loss to the Atlanta Hawks at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
The final 19-point margin wasn't really indicative of just how badly the Hawks beat the Pacers down. The game was already out of hand after the first quarter, with Atlanta grabbing a 33-11 lead. Indiana's offense remained a train wreck in the second quarter, only managing 12 points after the anemic 11-point first. The Hawks led 55-23 at the half, and the 23 first-half points set a franchise low.
Here's a perfect summation of the Pacers' first half:
WARNING WARNING EJECT EJECT EJECT pic.twitter.com/JufYW6X7t7— netw3rk (@netw3rk) April 6, 2014
Hibbert's performance embodied the entire struggle. In just nine minutes of action, Hibbert missed all five shots he took and didn't record any other stats besides a lone turnover. The big man's lousy play earned him a spot on the bench for the entire second half:
Angry Roy Hibbert pic.twitter.com/RgVXiTYckO— Mike Prada (@MikePradaSBN) April 7, 2014
Hibbert will finish with 9:03 minutes played - his fewest time on the floor since the second year of his career (2009-10)— Candace Buckner (@CandaceDBuckner) April 7, 2014
The Pacers' offense did wake up in the third quarter, but it was far too late. The Hawks never stopped scoring, scorching the nets to the tune of 56.2-percent shooting and 12-of-27 from three-point land. Jeff Teague led the way with 25 points, and Atlanta is now two games ahead of the New York Knicks for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
For Indiana, the loss is the fifth in the last six games, and the one victory was a tight one over the Detroit Pistons. The Pacers have been slumping since the All-Star Break, going just 13-13 after heading into the break with a record of 40-12. Their offense has been operating at close to league-worst levels over that time, and they haven't been able to keep up their historically great play on defense. The defeat has Indiana a full game behind the Miami Heat for the No. 1 seed in the East.
Hibbert and Paul George are two of the biggest culprits to blame for the downfall. Hibbert averaged just 9.7 points and 4.6 rebounds while shooting 42.2 percent from the field in March, and things haven't gotten any better in April. The big man has pulled down just five rebounds in 70 minutes this month and is making less than a third of his shots.
George was a legitimate MVP candidate after two months of torrid play. The start was buoyed by lights-out shooting from mid-range, and that along with drops in efficiency from other locations has his shooting percentage down under his career mark of 42.9 percent. The 23-year-old hasn't made at least half of his shots in a game since March 14.
Not only has the play on the court fallen off, things seem to be falling apart off it. Hibbert's quote about the team splintering was just one of many negative comments over the last few weeks, something Pacers coach Frank Vogel wasn't pleased about. There was also a verbal spat between George Hill and Lance Stephenson during a game that required the two players to be split up, and George has had his own set of off-court issues that could be affecting his play.
One has to wonder whether some of this would have been avoided if Indiana didn't shake the roster up earlier in the year. Danny Granger wasn't getting it done on the court, but he was a veteran presence who may have been able to help during these tough times. Evan Turner has never been viewed as a good leader, and the addition of Andrew Bynum certainly wasn't going to help any problems in the locker room.
After the first few months of the year, a Pacers-Heat Eastern Conference Finals looked like a guarantee. And perhaps they still will be the two teams left standing. Maybe this is just a prolonged malaise and the Pacers turn it on again when the postseason starts.
But right now, the ship is taking on water and on the verge of floundering.