Time to go small is now for Pacers

INDIANAPOLIS -- Frank Vogel has to stop being set in his ways. This isn't the time to be stubborn. The Indiana Pacers' coach has always been a strong believer in not letting the opponent dictate his team's style of play.

The Pacers want to be the aggressors, using a "smashmouth" style of play to punish opponents and get them out of their comfort zone. Not the other way around. Well, that's not working.

Now is the time for Vogel to take a page out of predecessor Jim O'Brien's book and go with a small lineup because a traditional lineup isn't working.

"We just have to get certain guys under control as a team," Pacers center Roy Hibbert said after their Game 1 loss. "I'm sure we'll look over film … if I'm the main culprit in terms of being the weak link on defense because they have a spread-five lineup. I guess we'll have to adjust."

The Hawks, as they did in their two regular-season victories over the Pacers, spread the floor with shooters. Their starting power forward and center, Paul Millsap and Pero Antic, have an ability to shoot from the perimeter that takes David West and Hibbert out of a comfort zone.

Distress is setting in for the Pacers, and being flexible is not a sign of weakness for Vogel. It's simply being willing to try something different because they're trailing the Hawks 1-0 in the best-of-seven series.

Vogel isn't giving any hints on what he plans to do with the lineup, but he's definitely thinking about it hard for the first time as head coach.

"I'm not saying it's not necessary [to make changes]," he said. "I'm not saying it's something we won't do."

The perils of making such a dramatic late switch go back seven years to the Dallas Mavericks-Golden State Warriors playoff series, also a No. 1 vs. No. 8 matchup.

Then-Mavericks coach Avery Johnson opened the series by not starting a true center. Dallas lost the game and eventually the series.

"There's risk in being who you're not," Vogel said.

This isn't the time for Vogel to live off history. The Pacers are on the brink of disaster. Lose Game 2 and there's a legit possibility that the Pacers' season could end in Atlanta because of their fragile state and lack of toughness displayed in the past month. Vogel went with a small lineup that consisted of West at center in the fourth quarter of Game 1. It came out of desperation because his team was trailing by double digits.

Ideally, the Pacers would make the Hawks pay on offense with Hibbert. That's wishful thinking because Hibbert is currently a liability, physically and mentally.

He scored eight points in Game 1, but, just like the final score, those points are misleading -- because, in Hibbert's case, six of them came in the fourth quarter when the outcome had already been determined. The Pacers were outscored by 11 points when Hibbert was in the game.

The blame can be spread around on why Hibbert isn't effective. He's not taking advantage of the shots he's getting. And the more he misses, the more his teammates become frustrated and hesitant to pass him the ball even when he has deep position in the post.

"That hurts the whole process," Vogel said. "Continuing to get position, it hurts Roy's ability to do something."

The Pacers have the bodies to go small -- and put Hibbert on the bench -- if Vogel chooses to. Center Ian Mahinmi is a quicker defender than Hibbert. Mahinmi is limited offensively. So is Hibbert these days, though, so that tradeoff shouldn't hurt the Pacers. Vogel said Paul George can play either forward position. Why not put him at power forward and West at center? What about using Chris Copeland at power forward? He's a matchup problem at that position. The Pacers know that from when he played against them while with the New York Knicks.

Staying the course hasn't worked for the Pacers the past few months, and there hasn't been any indication it will work. But George is willing to maintain the approach that brought Indiana this far.

"We're just going to stay the course," George said. "We believe in what coach is telling us. We believe in one another. Just do everything a little tougher."