It was a much different scene in the second half of Game 2 than what we saw in Game 1, mostly because it was a much different score.
In Game 1, we saw Jeff Teague carving up the Indiana Pacers' defense in the third quarter as the Atlanta Hawks took control of the game. Roy Hibbert went from being out of place on the floor to being dejected on the bench. Cameras caught poor body language and glum faces with every pan over to the sidelines. Hibbert embodied that poor exhibition of how to accept a whooping, much like he had been embodying their struggles on the court over the past couple months.
In Game 2, the Pacers did what they've often done over the past two seasons: they dismantled them in the third quarter and took complete control over the game. The Pacers outscored the Hawks by 18 in the third period, with half of that coming when Hibbert was in the game and half of it coming in the 4:40 he wasn't in there to finish the quarter. When he was on the sideline and the lead was increasing, Hibbert was found celebrating.
Paul George hit a deep buzzer-beater three to end the quarter, and Hibbert ran from the Pacers' bench down to the Hawks' bench simply to celebrate the made baskets and good times emanating from the Pacers' side of the equation. The Pacers did just fine with Hibbert on the court tonight. They were a plus-12, and even though he had just six points and four rebounds in 24 minutes, the aggressive play from Hibbert was there even when it wasn't effective.
There was a different feeling to the attitude of the Pacers in this game. Their moniker of "Blue Collar, Gold Swagger" couldn't have been more a propos.
In this series against a Hawks team hell-bent on making things weird out there, it's possible Hibbert simply doesn't belong on the court for extended minutes. And this doesn't even necessarily have to serve as an indictment on Hibbert and his game. He certainly needs to play better in the postseason for the Pacers to be title contenders like they were aiming to be for months.
Since the All-Star break, Hibbert's season has gone south and it cost him the Defensive Player of the Year award in the process. The defense got 9.4 points per 100 possessions worse with Hibbert on the court after the break and his individual play suffered. In the final 29 games he played in, he averaged just 8.9 points, 4.7 rebounds, and made 39.0 percent of his shots. Considering his contract and unusual game, Hibbert became the poster boy for why the Pacers were struggling.
The Pacers made their adjustments in Game 2 to avoid an embarrassing 0-2 hole heading to Atlanta, and it's possible it might be because they decided to include less of Hibbert on the floor against this atypical five-out approach by the Hawks. Hibbert's biggest strength is protecting the rim and you can't do that when you're guarding a man 23 feet from the basket. Physics don't allow his body to be agile enough to make up that ground quickly to recover to the hoop.
Hibbert is essentially a specialist in this league and that specialty is hard to maximize against the Hawks' game plan. Going away from Hibbert and using him sparingly in this series could be the recipe for success, but it doesn't mean he doesn't belong on this team. He just might not totally belong in this series. Against the Wizards or Bulls in the second round, Hibbert will be paramount to his team's success on the court.
Fast-forward to an Eastern Conference finals appearance and he'll be needed to punish the Miami Heat for going small. But his specialty is exploited quite easily against the perimeter-fixated Hawks. At a certain point, the price tag of Hibbert becomes irrelevant because it cannot change. People will focus on him being a max contract, but really the only thing that matters is whether or not he can fill his role when called upon.
Perhaps Frank Vogel simply shouldn't call on Hibbert so much until the next round, assuming the Pacers move on.