On the verge of elimination, the Hawks look to stave off the hungry Pacers tonight and force a game 7. So far, home teams have won every game in the series by a wide margin, so expectations are high for tonight. Here we break down our game 6 keys to victory for both sides:
Atlanta Hawks Keys to Victory
1) Don’t abandon the big lineup
After winning two games in a row, the Pacers abandoned their ‘big lineup’ game plan in game 5 and gave Kyle Korver 32 minutes off the bench, leaving only 17 and 16 minutes for Anthony Tolliver and Ivan Johnson, respectively. The result? Paul George ran wild and David West manhandled the Hawks down low. Never abandon your plan, Hawks, because it might spell an early playoff exit.
2) Give Ivan Johnson more minutes
In the aforementioned 16 minutes Johnson played last game he bullied his way to 9 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists and a steal all while harassing Indiana big men down low and drawing 8 free throws for himself. These free throws show that the Pacers will hack him to prevent easy buckets, and they become a huge key to success if Johnson can get Hibbert/West in foul trouble. It is unfathomable why the Hawks did not play their bruiser more in game 5, as he provides the toughness and motor they so desperately need against a bigger team like Indiana.
3) Get the crowd involved
Atlanta has a fiercely passionate fan base and an intimidating color, but the Hawks still need to fire up the crowd and not let momentum die. The fans are a big part of why Atlanta has been so effective at home in recent years, and if the Hawks are going to force a game 7 they must utilize their most important 6th man- the crowd.
Indiana Pacers Keys to Victory
1) Deny the post
Keep the ball in the hands of Devin Harris and Jeff Teague, it’s working. The two combined to go 6 of 25 in game 5, a dismal number that suggests their ineffectiveness against the very defensive-minded backcourt of George Hill and Lance Stephenson. The fact that Teague and Harris combined for 8 assists and 2 rebounds is also pretty staggering, especially considering they played a combined 70 minutes. Shift defenders to help out with Josh Smith and Horford and the Pacers have a chance to wrap up the series tonight.
2) Keep the bigs out of foul trouble
Indiana did a very nice job of contesting shots without fouling in game 5, as evidenced by none of their starting lineup picking up more than 4 fouls. This allowed 35+ minutes for both Hibbert and David West, who combined for 42 points and a lot of defensive mayhem for the Hawks. Hibbert in particular is a vital part of the Pacers advantage over the Hawks, so if they wish to break their current 12-game losing streak playing at Atlanta, he will have to log in heavy minutes.
3) Attack Josh Smith
As mentioned in our last game preview, Josh Smith had become a hindrance on Paul George’s effectiveness due to his lethal combination of size and speed. However, by routinely attacking him in game 5, the Pacers were able to force Smith into picking up 5 fouls and only playing for 25 minutes. Paul George capitalized on this and put up 21-10-5 on 87% shooting from the floor. If the Pacers can once again seek out Josh Smith on defense and force him to foul, tonight will be a long night for the Hawks.