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Vogel's Faith, Consistency Being Rewarded

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

May 12, 2014 | 1:30 a.m.

If the fans and media members who speak loudest had their way, Frank Vogel would have been fired by now, Roy Hibbert would have been benched, and just about every reserve except Chris Copeland would have been banished from the bench.

We're not sure who would be left to suit up for the Pacers, but fortunately for them, cooler heads—particularly Vogel's—have prevailed. Now they have a 3-1 lead in their second-round playoff series with Washington, an advantage only eight teams in 217 seven-game series in NBA history have managed to fumble.

Sunday's 95-92 victory at the Verizon Center means the Wizards will have to win three consecutive games from the Pacers, two of them at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, to win the series. That seems an unlikely occurrence, but then this series has been full of such things. Who could have predicted:

1. Hibbert would rise from the ashes to become a factor in three consecutive games, including a 17-point, nine-rebound effort in Game 4?
2. George Hill, the reluctant point guard, would consistently outplay former No. 1 draft pick John Wall?
3. Paul George would break the postseason records of Chuck Person and Reggie Miller with seven three-pointers while chasing a shooting guard around the court for 46 minutes?
4. Wizards center Marcin Gortat, after playing so well in the first two games, would disappear in the next two.
5. Drew Gooden, who scored two points in Washington's first-round series with Chicago, would emerge as a major factor?
6. Former Pacers player Al Harrington, who didn't score a point against Chicago, and didn't even play in four of Washington's first seven playoff games, would play 23 minutes and score 11 points?
7. The Pacers would win despite its bench being outscored by Washington's reserves, 32-2?

Why, you'd think you'd see cars racing clockwise around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway before all of those things happened.

Never mind.

More than anything, the Pacers' postseason to this point has been a testament to coach Frank Vogel's stubborn faith in his players, particularly Hibbert. Fans were tweeting demands for Luis Scola to be benched in the first half of Sunday's game, but they should know better. Vogel didn't give up on Hibbert after three scoreless playoff games, so he's not likely to give up on Scola – or anyone else – this quickly.

Vogel should get a Velcro endorsement for his tendency to stick with people, and so far it has paid off. That's not to say lineup changes don't work, either. Out in Los Angeles on Sunday, Doc Rivers put Chris Paul on Kevin Durant and inserted former Pacers point guard Darren Collison into the lineup with Paul. The Clippers proceeded to come back from 16 points down in the final 9:18 to defeat Oklahoma City. Vogel, though, has established his coaching style, and it's too late to make a drastic change now.

Vogel's only tweak on Sunday was to trim his reserves' minutes. That seemed the least he could do after a nearly disastrous first half in which they set the tone for a quarter in which the Pacers were outscored 29-11. George was the only starter on the court at the start of that period, and looked like a rock star playing with a high school band. That group opened with five missed shots and five turnovers, allowing Washington a 12-0 run that led to a 17-point halftime deficit for the Pacers.

By the end of the game, when George's heroics had saved them from massive and collective shame, they had managed just two points on 1-of-9 shooting. They only combined for 33 minutes, however, most of those in the first half.

Breaking news: Vogel almost certainly will stick with the same substitution pattern in Game 5 on Tuesday, for the same reason he kept rolling out Hibbert for the opening tip when Hibbert seemed hopelessly lost. It's what he does, because he knows constant lineup changes and knee-jerk substitution patterns disrupt chemistry and confidence.

“We've never lost confidence in our group here,” Vogel said in the postgame press conference, when asked about Hibbert's revival. “Tonight was indicative of why.”

Vogel's way wouldn't appear so savvy right now, though, if not for George putting on one of the greatest postseason performances in franchise history on Sunday. His 39 points not only made up for an empty bench, it covered for some potentially-fatal errors by Hill and Lance Stephenson.

Hill threw the ball away while the Pacers were nursing a three-point lead with 23 seconds left when he passed up an open jumper from the right wing and fed an unsuspecting Stephenson, who was leaning the wrong way to catch the pass. Harrington missed a driving layup on Washington's next possession, but Stephenson tried to throw the ball cross-court underneath the Wizards' basket after grabbing the tipped rebound.

That turnover set up Bradley Beal's 1-of-2 trip to the foul line, which made it a two-point game. Hill got a chance to redeem himself when he was fouled with six seconds remaining, but hit the first attempt and short-armed the second, keeping Washington within one possession of tying the game.

George's steal with three seconds left prevented anyone else from messing up his masterpiece.

“We just did a great job of staying poised, staying collected,” George said in an on-court interview following the game. “We didn't think this game was over (in the first half).”

Maybe the Pacers stayed on course because Vogel has made a habit of that. These playoff games are wildly unpredictable, and the coach who acts consistently rather than trying to react to every unpredictable turn of events tends to prevail.

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The Pacers host the Wizards in Game 5 of the Eastern Conf. Semifinals on May 13

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