If you wanted to say that the Indiana Pacers lost Thursday's Game 5 more than the New York Knicks won it, I wouldn't fight you in a public square. While the Knicks did seem more willing to attack and press the action in taking a 10-point decision, the Pacers frequently seemed unable to get out of their own way, coughing the ball up time and again, failing to take advantage of their trips to the foul line and allowing a Knicks team that still couldn't shoot straight (just 41 percent from the floor in the win) to capitalize on their sloppy play.
Roy Hibbert knew he and his teammates had let a golden opportunity to finish things off and advance to the Eastern Conference finals slip through their fingers. After the game, the 7-foot-2 center — no doubt frustrated by his own pedestrian nine-point, seven-rebound performance in 31 foul-filled minutes — called the Pacers on the carpet and questioned their masculinity, according to Fred Kerber of the New York Post:
“Excuse all the women in here, but we played like p---ies tonight, to tell you the truth,” foul-plagued center Roy Hibbert said. “We didn’t deserve to win this one. I’ll probably get fined for that. I don’t care.”
If you're not sure which letters belong in place of those dashes, Kerber helpfully spelled the NSFW language out on Twitter. Be aware, though: It's the kind of blue talk that'll shock the monocle right out of your eye.
We certainly appreciate you prefacing your remarks, Roy — so polite, these Pacers! — but:
A) I'm sure any grown-ass woman in a post-playoff-game locker room has heard far worse;
B) Any apology should probably be directed toward "all NBA fans, and especially Pacers fans," to whom you'll probably have to say sorry after the league fines you for it; and
Then again, I don't have that sophisticated an understanding of basketball physiology.
Hibbert's teammates and coach were also upset at their performance, though they refrained from speaking vaginally, according to Kerber:
“We blew it,” Lance Stephenson said.
“The game was right there for us,” David West said. “Just some costly turnovers, guys not following assignments. That comes down to concentration. You [must] concentrate late.” [...]
“We’ve got to play better,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “Clearly if you’re not going to make your free throws and turn the ball over 19 times, we were out of sync offensively.
“Turnovers, free throws ... every team has a night like this.”
That it happened to Indiana in a closeout game on the road is unfortunate, but not particularly shocking, especially considering the Pacers learned not long before game-time that they'd be playing Game 5 without starting point guard George Hill, who was diagnosed with a concussion suffered during the first quarter of Game 4. While Hill had experienced some problems with ball security earlier in the series, most notably in the Pacers' Game 2 loss, he turned the ball over on a significantly lower share of his possessions than backup D.J. Augustin did during the regular season.
Beyond that, the general apple-cart-upsetting that comes with an injury to a starter would figure to have a particularly large effect on a Pacers team that relies so heavily on lineup continuity. Indiana's starting five (Hibbert, Hill, Stephenson, West and Paul George) was not only great, but it also played the second-most minutes of any five-man unit in the NBA this year, according to NBA.com's stat tool, behind only the Oklahoma City Thunder's starting five. (OKC didn't fare so great without its starting point guard, either.)
While the Pacers have multiple other players capable of handling the ball, midstream changes in who's initiating the offense, how entry passes are being thrown (especially when they're being thrown by Gerald Green, which, yikes), which ball-movement decisions are being made and when those decisions are triggering action all matter. So does the shift in role definition that comes with each of those guys having to take a little bit more responsibility for handling the ball — as Knicks guard J.R. Smith said after the game, the Knicks were pretty happy with George having to bring the ball up the floor more, because it meant he was starting possessions in a different role, which "takes him out of his game on offense."
Hill's status for Game 6 is very much in doubt. The team's listing him as day-to-day, but before he can be cleared to play, he must pass all tests included in the concussion protocol the league put in place prior to the 2011-12 season:
If a player is diagnosed with a concussion, he will have to complete a series of steps to confirm that he's healthy enough for competition. Once he is free of symptoms, the player must make it through increasing stages of exertion — from a stationary bike, to jogging, to agility work, to non-contact team drills — while ensuring the symptoms don't return after each one. Then the neurologist hired to lead the NBA's concussion program needs to be consulted before the player is cleared.
The process will likely take at least several days, if not weeks.
Individual players' recovery times have varied this season. Charlotte Bobcats rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist sat five days with a concussion in February, and his former Kentucky teammate, New Orleans Hornets rookie Anthony Davis, missed one week after an early November concussion. Los Angeles Lakers big man Pau Gasol was sidelined for 11 days in January, while Cleveland Cavaliers rookie Tyler Zeller was out for 12. Dallas Mavericks center Chris Kaman, who said he thought the concussion protocol was stupid, missed nearly a month between late January and early February.
There's no specific guidance in the league's policy on timeline; it's all handled on a case-by-case basis, and is predicated solely on the player's ability to pass the required tests. Though his peers' experiences wouldn't seem to bode well for his Game 6 availability, it remains possible Hill could be cleared by Saturday.
If Hill can't go, though, and the Pacers must once again go with a ball-handler-by-committee approach, there are strategic adjustments that Vogel can make to mitigate the fallout, but a lot of it comes down to execution. The Pacers simply have to have crisper passes and steadier playmaking from Augustin, Stephenson and George at the inception of possessions, and they definitely need West and Hibbert (six turnovers between them) to quit randomly throwing the ball out of bounds once they get it. Improved focus and increased precision probably would've finished this series in five games, and it can certainly do so in six back in the friendly confines of Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Hibbert didn't want to talk about the finer points of ball security, though; he was more interested in advanced gender studies, according to Kerber:
“We didn’t deserve to win,” Hibbert said. “We’ve got to like figure it out, man up, toughen up, sack up and try to close this thing out. ... But we didn’t deserve to win. We played soft.”
The need to "man up" seems less important than "hitting the open man," really, but whatever motivational tactics Hibbert and his teammates need to employ, they're going to need a significantly better effort to close out the Knicks at home on Saturday.