If we’ve learned anything from the first five games of the Indiana Pacers and Atlanta Hawks first round playoff series, it’s that Pacers’ head coach Frank Vogel is still searching for the right lineups once his starters hit the bench for breathers.
Indiana’s starting five – George Hill, Lance Stephenson, Paul George, David West and Roy Hibbert — has been one of the most frequently used lineups in the entire NBA. For good reason, too. That group has also been incredibly successful as they have outscored opponents by 12.1 points per 100 possessions, the third-best mark in the league.
That efficiency from the starters has carried over into the playoffs as well. The Pacers are hammering the Hawks to the tune of 22.3 points per 100 possessions when those five players share the floor.
However, since Indiana took a 2-0 series lead, Atlanta’s head coach, Larry Drew, countered with a bigger starting lineup. Drew sent Kyle Korver to the bench and inserted center Johan Petro, pushing both Al Horford and Josh Smith down to the four and three respectively. The adjustment obviously bothered the Pacers as the Hawks won both of the next two contests.
By removing Korver from the starting lineup, Atlanta created a trickle down effect that allowed Korver to reap the benefits of lesser Indiana defenders attempting to chase him around the numerous off-ball screens that are set for him. Whether it is Stephenson or Gerald Green, Korver has left both looking confused as he catches passes for open three-point looks.
In game five, Vogel turned to three-guard lineups when Korver entered the game. D.J. Augustin joined both Hill and Stephenson, leaving Hill, the more veteran, seasoned defender to chase Korver.
The Pacers also threw the 6-foot-9 Jeff Pendergraph on Smith for stretches. Smith, who had fantastic performances in both of Atlanta’s victories, did most of his previous work on the thinner George. The multiple looks Smith saw in game five clearly got to him as he scored just 14 points, shot just 5-of-16 from the field, and was hit with a second half technical after becoming frustrated with the officials.
Slight adjustments like these are what can separate one team from another in a seven-game series. The Pacers’ latest counter has them one win from moving on. Your move, Atlanta.
Brandon Curry is an NBA writer for Rant Sports. Follow Brandon on Twitter @ByBrandonCurry