After an annoying two-day layoff, the Indiana Pacers are back in playoff action tonight in Indianapolis against the Atlanta Hawks. The Pacers cruised to a 107-90 win in Game 1 to take the 1-0 lead, but as any NBA fan knows, a split is a win for the visiting team in the first two games, so this match-up is a pivotal one. There is a big difference between 2-0 and 1-1 as the Pacers prepare to go on the road. As well as Game 1 went, the game plan for Game 2 shouldn’t change much. Here are three keys to a Pacers’ victory, straight from Sunday’s blueprint:
1. A good outing from Paul George. The young, apparently-still-growing, small forward has had an All-Star-game worthy third season, which has been particularly necessary with the injured Danny Granger. George added to his hardware this week by winning the league’s Most Improved award. On Sunday, George played like a man, securing a triple-double 23 points, 11 rebounds, and 12 assists. The assists were particularly telling because it shows that he’s finding the open man when the Hawks devote too much energy to guarding him. He also, of course, had the tough task of matching up with the Hawks’ Josh Smith, who averages 17.5 points per game. If there was any hole in George’s game at all during Game 1, it was that he shot 0-5 from 3-point range. The Pacers will need George to have his best every night in order to make a serious run in this year’s playoffs.
2. Balanced Scoring. George is in the process of becoming a star, but other than that, the Pacers’ are really more a balanced group then they are a team that just sits back and watches one player. In other words, George needs plenty of help on any given night. In Game 1, the whole starting lineup scored in double figures. George led with 23, then point guard George Hill with 18, center Roy Hibbert with 16, and both power forward David West and shooting guard Lance Stephenson chipped in 13. That kind of balance is so hard to stop at any level.
3. Gerald Green sightings. A Pacers’ reserve, Green grabbed some spotlight in the Pacers’ final regular-season game by scoring 34 points in a losing effort. Even more impressive is the fact that he only shot 14 times from the field in order to get there. There aren’t too many people out there who expect him to replicate the effort in the playoffs, but it did offer some hope that he might be able to contribute a little more than previously expected. Pacers’ Head Coach Frank Vogel rewarded Green with 11 minutes of playing time in Game 1, to which he responded by scoring 11 points, including three for seven from 3-point range. The Pacers can only hope his hot streak continues in Game 2 and beyond.