How’s this for irony? On a day Indianapolis coach Frank Vogel was given the Rudy Tomjanovich Award from the Pro Basketball Writers Association, recognizing his excellence and cooperation with the media, he wasn’t in a terribly expansive mood.
“No,” Vogel responded when asked if he had any update on lineup decisions. “Find out tomorrow.”
When asked again if he was still considering changes (read: benching center Roy Hibbert) Vogel again responded, “Find out tomorrow.”
OK, he was cooperative. Just not transparent.
Some thoughts going into Game 4 on Saturday, with the Hawks leading the best-of-seven series 2-1:
1. WHAT HAS BEEN GAINED: By winning Game 3, the Hawks are no longer a cute little story. They’re a legitimate threat to upset the Pacers in this series. Many debated down the stretch whether the Hawks’ scramble to make the playoffs would really be such a great thing because it would keep them out of the draft lottery. But there are enormous positives to what they’ve achieved, on and off the court, regardless of what happens the rest of the series. “I knew good could come from either (scenario),” general manager Danny Ferry told me Friday. “Whatever it was we needed to move forward and make the best of it. But what’s important now is we’re in the mix of the playoffs. We’re building an identity and building momentum as a program.” For more from Ferry and what this playoff series means to the Hawks in the big picture, click this link.
2. ON HIBBERT: Vogel balked Thursday night when asked if he would take the struggling Hibbert out of the starting line in Game 4. “We’ll see. Probably,” he said. But the mere fact Vogel is even considering benching his highest paid player ($14.3 million this season) tells you how desperate the situation is. It’s one thing for Hibbert to not be an offensive force. His absence defensively is what’s hurting the Pacers most. He doesn’t have a block in the series. Hawks players, particularly Jeff Teague, aren’t hesitating to drive into the lane. My guess: Hibbert starts but Vogel will take him out quickly and goes with his smaller lineup if the results aren’t positive.
UPDATE: Vogel said before the game that Hibbert will start. It’s not surprising decision. It makes more sense to start Hibbert and pull him if he stinks than not to start him and create issue before tip-off.
3. SOUND OFF: This series and Hibbert’s dreadful performance have increased the pressure on Vogel. There has been at least one unsourced report that he might be coaching for his job. Indianapolis Star columnist Bob Kravitz invoked Vogel and his future when addressing Hibbert in his column following the Hawks’ win over the Pacers Thursday night: “It’s really very simple and kind of sad given the deep reservoir of goodwill the big man has built up in Indianapolis: Hibbert is killing the Pacers right now. He can’t catch a pass. He can’t get a rebound. He can’t make a shot, either from mid-range or from right in front of the rim. And if coach Frank Vogel stays with him, if Vogel continues to start him or play him a significant number of minutes, he deserves to go down with the sinking ship.” Damn columnists. They think they know everything.
4. THE TEAGUE FACTOR: The Pacers have no answer for Teague, who leads the Hawks in playoff scoring at 21.3 points per game. He took over in Games 1 (28 points) against George Hill and Game 3 (22 points, 10 assists) against Paul George when it mattered most. This is about Teague’s aggressiveness and the Pacers’ lack of an intimidating presence in the middle. Teague got to the free throw line 10 times (making nine) in Game 3 and the Hawks were 24 of 29 overall from the line. There was a question before these playoffs whether he was the Hawks’ point guard of the future. There shouldn’t be that question now.
5. THE GROWING BUZZ: The Hawks may finally be getting some attention in the fickle Atlanta sports market. There’s a good chance that Saturday’s game will be sold out. (Officials are even removing the black curtain to open up the 400 level. They might want to dust the seats before opening the arena doors.) When I asked DeMarre Carroll if fans have been slow to warm to this team, he smiled and said, “They’re slow but that’s fans. You have to give them a reason to come and that’s what we’re doing: We’re giving them a reason. We’re playing better basketball.”
UPDATE: The game has been sold out.