Despite the evidence to the contrary over the past two games, I still expect Indiana to win this series. I know, I know. There are certainly multiple reasons for Pacers’ fans to be worried.
But Paul George probably summed it up best when asked about Indiana’s struggles away from home after Game 4: “It’s night and day. And it shouldn’t be like that.”
He is right about two things: If definitely shouldn’t be like that. It’s sad really, and it starts with George himself. He, like the whole team, has been night and day at home and on the road this year.
On the other, he’s a three-year vet who has started 164 regular season games, now appeared in 20 playoff games and played in one All-Star Game — during which he scored 17 points. LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony were the only three players to take more shots than George did in that midseason exhibition.
You would think such a career stepping stone would help eradicate any trepidation about playing anywhere. But so far in this postseason, George has been — let’s be kind and say — “not good” away from home.
He was magnificent in Games 1 and 2, starting the postseason off by living at the line and recording a triple double. Grown-man All-Star stuff. Then, in the second game at The Fieldhouse, he hit 10-of-17 shots inside the arc. If he had not missed three free throws, he would have had a 30-point game. Beast.
When it comes to first-time All-Stars debuting in the playoffs, George was DMX: dropping two classics in rapid succession right out the gate.
Then, on a plane ride to Atlanta, he seemingly lost all his powers — like Dark Man X minus the white lines.
A less esoteric metaphor: It’s like he’s a superhero called Indiana Man, capable of leaping large buildings and decimating foes of any strength — but he loses all his otherworldly powers when he crosses state lines.
It’s a problem.
But, really, his struggles are just a microcosm for how badly the whole team played in Atlanta. George Hill’s lines in Games 3 and 4 were much, much worse. He scored 15 points in two games on 5-for-23 (21.7%) shooting, including 0-for-9 (you do the math) from behind the arc. Lance Stephenson was equally terrible (1-for-7 shooting) in Game 3 while David West uncharacteristically spent half the game being more upset at the refs than he was into the on-court action.
What in the world?
Fortunately for Indiana’s hopes to regain command of this series, these are all Game 6 issues.
Tonight, for Game 5, the Pacers will be in the friendly confines of The Fieldhouse.
Here, they have no excuse (as poor of an excuse as it is) to play poorly. If they can’t beat the Hawks in Indiana, they probably don’t deserve to advance to the second round. Seven-game series are cool like that. They leave almost no question as to which team is better.
We’ve spent all season debating whether or not the Pacers’ vaunted (yet lately porous) defense is enough to carry them to the Eastern Conference Finals. We’ve wondered about Roy Hibbert’s shooting struggles. We’ve broken down the rise of Lance Stephenson. We’ve praised the invaluable intangibles of David West.
But if they can’t win tonight?
Well, thanks for the regular season memories, guys.
Sure, they could lose Game 5 and then win the next two (like Miami did to Boston last year), but would anyone expect that? It isn’t a must-must win (since it’s not an elimination game), but it is a must win. And more than any of that buzzword nonsense, this team needs to prove, tonight, to itself, that it can go out there and get it done when getting it done needs to get done.
Some good news: Four out of five TrueHoop Network folks (including me) queried by ESPN believe this is still Indiana’s series.
Here are their/my thoughts on the matter.
Hawks or Pacers: Who has the edge in the series now?
Jim Cavan: Pacers. There’s a difference between “momentum” and “edge.” By dint of their impressive showing at home, the Hawks might have a bit of the former, but the edge belongs to those who hold home-court advantage. Indiana is still in the driver’s seat, which means it can still close this thing out in six. With its crowd raucous and D ratcheted, that should come to pass.
Tom Haberstroh: Pacers. Home-court advantage is a pretty big deal and so is being healthy. I’m not buying that the Pacers are all of a sudden missing Danny Granger; they won 45 games this season without him. But as long as Josh Smith and Al Horford are on the floor, the Hawks are trouble. Just not enough trouble to give them the edge here, with two games on the road.
Michael Pina: Hawks. The margin is extremely close, but the Hawks’ defensive decision to stick Josh Smith on Paul George when the series shifted back to Atlanta has worked wonders. The proverbial ball now lies in Indiana’s court.
Jared Wade: Pacers. Barring total collapse (losing four in a row), they will have two more home games. Indiana may be more likely to get a win in Atlantis than Atlanta, but I still like it to win two of the next three.
Royce Young: Pacers. Playing at home has been a major X factor for both teams so far in the series, and the Pacers get the next one in their building. Assuming they continue the series trend of protecting their own floor, they’ll have two chances to close the series.