The NBA Playoffs, like most professional postseasons, can be unpredictable. For exhibit A, check out the Chicago Bulls and Brooklyn Nets as they head to Game 7. Or even Stephen Curry and his Golden State Warriors’ convincing win over the favored Denver Nuggets. Then, of course there’s the Houston Rockets dragging out a series against last year’s NBA runner-up, the Oklahoma City Thunder, who are playing the rest of the way without their point guard, Russell Westbrook.
But other times, the playoffs can be downright predictable, like the way the Lebron-James-led, defending-champion Miami Heat made quick work of the Milwaukee Bucks.
I can’t say that I’m really surprised by the way the Indiana Pacers’ first-round match-up against the Atlanta Hawks has gone either. Head Coach Frank Vogel’s group finished the regular season quite lackadaisically, and quite frankly that’s how they’ve looked, at times, against the Hawks. Going into tonight’s Game 6 in Atlanta, the Pacers lead 3-2, but neither team has won on the road yet.
To be fair, the two teams are pretty evenly matched, and the Hawks aren’t an easy match-up for the Pacers. I do think the Pacers will eventually prevail, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be able to win tonight. In order to have a chance, they’ll have to accomplish the following benchmarks:
1. Get off to a good start. In the Pacers’ road losses so far, they’ve trailed at halftime by 17 and 24 points, respectively. Obviously to win any playoff game on the road they can’t start out that way, let alone in a building in which they have lost 13 straight times.
2. Stop Hawks’ forward Josh Smith. The Pacers have actually done a nice job with Smith for most of the series, with Paul George deserving much of the credit. Smith’s best game in the series so far was a 29-point effort in Game 4, a win for the Hawks. I’m not sure the Hawks can win the another game, let alone the series, without another big game from Smith.
3. Keep the game close. The series so far has been full of double-digit blowouts with the home teams winning out. The closest game of the series was an 11-point win for the Hawks in Game 4. Home court obviously means a lot and crowds can swing the momentum. For that reason, a bit more of a controlled, back-and-forth, methodical game might actually be in the Pacers’ favor.