One game remains in the first-round series between the Atlanta Hawks and the top-seeded Indiana Pacers. One of these teams will see their season end on Saturday night, and the Hawks find themselves with the odds against them as they prepare for the intimidating Game 7 on the road in Indianapolis.
The continued struggle of Roy Hibbert has been one of the bigger stories out of this series, but his decline in playing time has made room for the emergence of other Pacers that are causing problems for the Hawks.
Ian Mahinmi has stepped into the primary center role while Hibbert remains on the bench, but the Pacers have also opted to go with a smaller lineup for large stretches of the game and it has become a more successful strategy against the Hawks.
One of the biggest advantages the Hawks have had in this series was Pero Antic, who’s ability to move out to the perimeter opens up space at the basket for the Hawks’s guards.
The Pacers have combated this disadvantage by using C.J. Watson and now Chris Copeland to help defend the “5-out” sets the Hawks have used. The use of C.J. Watson has been the most intriguing change as he has seen at least 25 minutes of playing time in 3 of the 6 games so far.
The Hawks have seen a few dry spells when the Pacers use this lineup and have opted to try using both Mike Scott and Paul Millsap on the floor to try and break these spells. Mike Scott has had a largely average series when excluding his stellar first half performance in Game 5.
Scott saw a bump in playing time in Game 6, but was unsuccessful in building off his Game 5 performance and finished with only 4 points. He still is the best option to have on the floor when Copeland is in for the Pacers, however, C.J. Watson is still the first pick for Coach Frank Vogel when going with a smaller lineup.
The Hawks have gone with Lou Williams with Watson on the floor, and he has had success throughout the series, but continues to struggle when attacking the basket.
Shelvin Mack was another beneficiary of having a good Game 5, but was a non-factor in Game 6 after only being on the floor for 10 minutes in the loss. Shelvin didn’t receive the bump in playing time like we saw from Mike Scott, but he may be the answer for the Hawks to defend the Pacers’ “small-ball.”
Mack should be able to defend C.J. Watson well with a stronger build and similar size, and his frame could allow for more success attacking the basket than what Lou Williams has experienced.
The Hawks are used to having two point guards on the floor and therefore, little adjustment would be needed if Shelvin was used more often in Game 7.
A change may be needed for the Hawks if they want to grab a third victory on the road in this series.
The Pacers bench has been a huge factor in keeping the team in the series. The Hawks have needed a similar boost and if the team can find success from the bench like in Game 5, a victory for Atlanta in Game 7 shouldn’t seem like a far fetched idea.
Whether the Hawks will opt for a change will remain to be seen until tip-off on Saturday.
In the end, the brink of elimination may push for changes from both teams in the final game.