The Atlanta Hawks are hoping for a repeat performance of Game 1 while the Indiana Pacers look to right the ship in Game 2.
Saturday, the 8th-seeded Hawks gave the top-seeded Pacers all they could handle in first-round Eastern Conference action. Atlanta held leads of up to 20 points for the bulk of the match, and a late Indiana surge wasn’t enough as they fell 101-93.
Jeff Teague led Atlanta with a spectacular performance of 28 points and 5 assists.
The results from Saturday in conjunction with how Indiana played down the stretch of the regular season are raising eyebrows throughout the league of a possible upset in this best of 7 series. Indiana finished the season winning only 10 of their last 22 games and their offense has failed to mesh after trading then the longest tenured Pacer, Danny Granger. His replacement, Evan Turner, has only averaged 7 points per match on a measly shooting percentage of 41% since putting on a gold jersey. As a team, Indiana was outscored by 4.5 points a game and only shot 43.3% during the last 22 games in regulation.
This heap of evidence of a major decline has many in the Hoosier State pressing a veritable panic button. There have been rumbles from the Pacers’ camp about significant changes in advance of Tuesday’s match. Paul George has asked to make Jeff Teague his defensive assignment. Some are even calling for Indiana to go smaller in Game 2.
Atlanta’s spacing in Game 1 gave the Pacers fits. Pero Antic, the journeyman 31 year old rookie from Macedonia, flashed his range going 2-5 from behind the arc. Did I mention he’s 6’11” and plays center? He and Paul Millsap have become nightmares to gameplan for due to their ability to knock down long shots at a high rate, something that is uncommon for power forwards and centers to do.
If the Pacers do elect to go small to combat Atlanta’s spacing, expect lineups featuring David West and Luis Scola, both very accomplished mid-range shooters. Hawks fans should be very familiar with David West as he totaled 45 points in Game 5 and 6 of last year’s Indiana-Atlanta postseason series to help finish off the Hawks. He’s been possibly the most consistent contributor during the cratering of Indiana’s season.
Luis Scola should not be overlooked either. He is years removed from his prime as part of a couple of Rockets postseason runs, but he can get going at any moment. Almost half of Scola attempts come from 16-23 feet from the basket, according to Basketball Reference, and he shoots 45.6% from there, a very respectable mark from that distance. Ian Mahinmi and Chris Copeland may also get bigger minutes as head coach Frank Vogel and the Pacers search for answers. Both both are physical presences that may bother a smallish Hawks team.
Make no mistake, the Pacers are the No. 1 seed in the East for a reason. Stealing another game in front of a packed Bankers Life Fieldhouse will be no easy task. The hopes will rest on the trio of Jeff Teague, DeMarre Carroll, and Paul Millsap. Teague will have to push the pace in transition for similarly easy opportunities like the ones he found Saturday. Carroll will be counted on once again to help shut down athletic wunderkind Paul George. Millsap will be asked to carry the offensive load in the halfcourt set, both spacing the floor and also keeping Indiana honest in the post.
Here’s to a road sweep as the Hawks look to take a commanding 2-0 series lead back to Atlanta. Tip off is at 7:00 PM ET.