The scoreboard says the Indiana Pacers beat the Hawks last night, tying their first-round playoff series with Atlanta at one game apiece. Today’s recaps will say Paul George willed the Pacers to a 101-85 back-alley whooping of the Hawks in Game 2. The rest of the NBA Eastern Conference will note the 26-point margin of victory and declare the Pacers “back.”
Yet as true as the first-two may be, that third observation is nothing but fan speak. The Pacers are still a long way from justifying their No. 1 seed in the East, and they continue to lose the battle where it matters most: the locker room.
The Indiana Pacers haven’t been themselves since Larry Bird traded Danny Granger. Indiana picked up Evan Turner in the process, which in theory is a great move. But Granger had that intangible locker-room appeal that kept guys at ease, and the off-court chemistry has translated into on-court failures.
Before the Pacers-Hawks series kicked off, Indiana’s momentum — if you want to call it that — was a two-game winning streak. The team had literally stumbled into the top seed in the NBA Eastern Conference.
All-Star center Roy Hibbert was a particular trouble spot to end the season, shooting just 23.5% from the field and averaging 3.2 rebounds over a 13-game span. Last night, in the supposedly decisive Game 2 victory over the Atlanta Hawks, Hibbert had a meager 6 points and 4 rebounds.
Meanwhile, reports surfaced this morning that Indiana Pacers teammates Evan Turner and Lance Stephenson got into a heated fist fight in practice. The fight took place before Game 1 of their series with the Hawks, but something’s not right in that locker room.
Not only that, but a report on ESPN says coach Frank Vogel may be “coaching for his job.” Hard to imagine such instability from top to bottom on the top-seeded team in the East.
So while fans today say Indiana won and has regained their pre-Granger-trade stride, nothing could be farther from the truth. Turner — the very guy for whom Bird traded Granger — is getting into literal fist fights with a vital team member. Hibbert, who’s been a shell of himself since the Granger trade, continues to struggle mightily. Coach Vogel, who’s supposed to be running (and righting) the ship, is suddenly fighting for his professional life.
The Indiana Pacers beat the Hawks in Game 2, but things are far from rosy in Indy, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Pacers dropped the rest. Indy won the Game 2 battle, but they’re on the brink of losing the series-long war. And the saddest part is, their most fearsome opponent is themselves.