It isn’t often that you see an NBA playoff game where the losing team in a 17-point blowout shoots 50% from the field and 41% from three, but that was the case on Sunday afternoon in Indiana. In a game marred by inconsistent play, untimely fouls, and maddening decisions, the Pacers absolutely put away the Hawks, but they had some help as well.
The best player on the Atlanta Hawks, Mr. Al Horford, played 28 minutes in game one. On the surface (and to the casual NBA fan), this may seem like a reasonable number of court time for a tremendous player, but it certainly wouldn’t be, especially in a playoff setting. Horford averaged 37.2 minutes per game in the regular season, he didn’t encounter foul trouble in the game, and Atlanta was (still) missing Zaza Pachulia for the game (and the rest of the season). I realize that a 17-point margin isn’t explained away by a lack of Horford minutes, but it was simply inexplicable to see the team’s best player on the sidelines for nearly half of the game.
In addition to Horford’s absence, there was a noted foul disparity between the team two teams. Coming into the game, Indiana was among the bottom-5 teams in the league in fouling the opposition, as the averaged 21.6 personal fouls per game. On the other end, Atlanta was one of the top-5 in fouling, averaging only 18.8 fouls per game. This can be easily explained by Indiana’s highly physical defense compared with Atlanta’s more “free” approach on the defensive end, but Sunday’s results didn’t match up to the norm. Atlanta was whistled for 26 fouls to just 19 from the Pacers, and Indiana got to the free throw line an astounding 34 times (making 30) and that was a big factor in the game.
Lastly, the rebounding troubles for Atlanta are nothing new, but the Pacers absolutely mauled the Hawks on the glass for the entirety of the game. Indiana grabbed 15 offensive rebounds, creating multiple second-chance opportunities (Indiana attempted 2 more field goals than Atlanta despite twenty more free throw attempts), and when you combine that with the fouling disparity, things got ugly.
It is important to remember that this is a one-game sample size. With that said, however, the issues that cropped up with the Hawks (rebounding, rotation deployment) aren’t exactly “new” and if Indiana can continue to isolate Atlanta’s weaknesses, it could be a very short (read: four-game) series.