Time for Hibbert to hit the bench

ATLANTA -- One of coach Frank Vogel's strongest attributes -- his loyalty to and faith in his players -- could end up costing the Indiana Pacers their first-round series against the Atlanta Hawks.

Vogel has always looked for the positive, even if there are five negatives with a player. He continues to stick with Roy Hibbert as his starting center.

Miss after miss. Fumbled pass after fumbled pass. And missed rebound after missed rebound.

It's time for that to stop. Now.

Not after Game 4 or in the next round if the Pacers advance.

Hibbert, as he has been all series, was a no-show in the Pacers' 98-85 loss to the Hawks on Thursday, finishing with four points, two rebounds and several embarrassing moments.

Vogel did the right thing and benched him for the final 17:30 of the game and used Ian Mahinmi and David West at center in place of the ineffective Hibbert.

Is it time for a permanent change at center?

"We'll see, he's our anchor," Vogel said. "We won 56 games with him as our starter. That's the simplest answer."

Hibbert is the anchor in the middle for the Pacers, but anchors do cause things to sink at times, and that's what's happening to them when Hibbert is on the court.

Hibbert is mentally gone. And you have to wonder if it's possible to get him back on track.

Postgame, Hibbert sat at his locker, still in uniform with his hand on his forehead as he stared at the ground thinking about what has happened to him over the past two months.

"I have to figure it out and be ready," Hibbert said. "It was my fault."

The numbers agree.

Hibbert is shooting 20 percent from the field in the past nine games and only 18 percent from the paint in that span.

Hibbert summed up his play perfectly in the first half when Evan Turner drove and dished to him. The nearest Hawks defender might as well have been in the next town over.

The ball went off Hibbert's hands and out of bounds. Moments after Hibbert's dropped pass, a picture started circulating on Twitter with Pacers president Larry Bird having both hands on his face.

It's unknown if that's why Bird had his hands on his face, but it's understandable if that were the case when you take into consideration how little Hibbert has contributed.

"We just have to be there for him," Pacers swingman Paul George said. "We're all here for him. It's something he has to find his way through. We're here as reinforcement. Let him know we're here for him.

"We have to keep with him. It's on him to execute and produce, but he's a weapon regardless, and that's the weapon we're going to continue to use."

What about Hibbert's defense, though? He did finish second in the league in Defensive Player of the Year voting.

Nope, he's not helping there, either. Hibbert has 14 rebounds and no blocked shots in the series.

"Just have to keep working at it," he said. "Gotta keep playing to the best of my abilities. There's a lot of basketball left."

But that basketball shouldn't involve Hibbert in the starting lineup.