With the first round of the playoffs looming for the Indiana Pacers and their fans, the 8 Points, 9 Seconds staff takes a further look at the team’s matchup with the Atlanta Hawks. Indiana met Atlanta in the first round of the postseason last year, as well, winning the best-of-seven series, 4-2.
The Pacers are slated to tip-off in game 1 of the series tonight (April 19) at 7:00 p.m. Eastern Time at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
Below, we answer five questions regarding the series. So without further ado, take a look:
1. What’s the scariest thing about the Pacers?
Ronald Eugene: For opponents, it would be the Pacers’ ability to overperform in the playoffs. The team has rarely closed out the regular season very well under Vogel but has typically played beyond what those predicted prior to the postseason. With the style of the playoffs favoring Indiana’s line-up, typically Vogel can get them to turn it up to 11, especially at home.
Shane Young: Lance Stephenson’s motor that never stops. The more you watch him operate when NOTHING is there for Indiana’s offense, the more you fall in awe of his ability to rescue them in second or third quarter spurts. Against Atlanta, a team that will not hesitate to put seven or eight 3-pointers on the board in a half, the guard play of he and C.J. Watson is the only way the Pacers can avoid going the distance (Game 7). Rim protection is obviously an aspect Indiana has owned since the season tipped, but they’re at their best when Lance creates, and they score in the high 90′s, or triple digits. The Pacers may have died at the end of the season, but Lance is reborn to start the playoffs. Born …. Ready.
Jared Wade: That nobody has any idea who they are anymore. This team could still make it to the NBA Finals or start its summer vacation in about a week. The Pacers we saw in November and December could carve up the Heat, but the incarnation we watched in March would lose in five to the Hawks. It’s clear that they are now somewhere in between, but we don’t know exactly where. And here’s what should keep them up at night: neither do they.
Will Rettig: Their offense has not clicked well for over two months. That could either mean (1) the Pacers will continue to struggle offensively and the defense carries them as far as they may go, or (2) that their shots begin to fall and they move the ball so well that the game becomes very easy for them. I hope it’s the latter.
Avi Friedman: When the Pacers’ defense is running on all cylinders it drains so much out of the opposing offense to score against them.
2. What’s the scariest thing about the Hawks?
Eugene: The Hawks’ ability to space the floor and catch fire will really challenge the Pacers, who honestly might have preferred a match-up against a defensive team like Charlotte instead. Pero Antic is an absolute nightmare (and not just because of my irrational fear of Eastern Europeans). He can draw Hibbert out of the paint, which has been the only reason he gets to play the last few weeks.
Young: Big men stepping outside without a care in the world. Listen, Atlanta has nothing to lose. Danny Ferry didn’t even want to be a part of the playoffs. Now, you’re out of your mind if you think they won’t be trying to rain on the No. 1 seed parade. Pero Antic and Paul Millsap will drag Roy Hibbert and David West out to the perimeter, and as we witnessed two weeks ago, Jeff Teague licks his chops to that idea. It’s not going to be a cakewalk, considering Millsap is shooting 2.4 more 3-point field goals than he did last season, which comes out to be a huge difference in terms of how differently he’s playing. Al Horford going down is never good for the frontcourt, but it has allowed them to burn teams from the outside. They’ll have their fun in Phillips Arena, as always vs. Indy.
Wade: Pero Antic. In addition to looking like a Bond villain bent on global takeover, he can space the floor for the Hawks, and that could potentially take the Pacers’ literal biggest strength — its size — and make it into a weakness. Pulling the Pacers’ bigs out of the paint can neutralize that stingy defense. So it’s no coincidence that Antic played in Atlanta’s two wins over Indiana this season, scoring a combined 34 points on 18 shots, while he sat with an injury in the two losses.
Rettig: For the Hawks, it has to be a combination of the fact that nobody is talking about them and that they can shoot the ball well from the outside. If Atlanta gets hot, and the Pacers are a step behind on their defensive rotations, Indy might find themselves in a tougher series than they imagined.
Friedman: The Pacers’ bad track record against them. Other than that nothing much scared me other than Jeff Teague being way better than George Hill. I think Hibbert and West can handle Paul Millsap and they defended Korver well in the playoffs last season.
3. Who’s the biggest X-factor in this series?
Eugene: George Hill. When he’s playing aggressively, the team is much better (per the eye test). If he struggles and the Watson-as-a-starter rhetoric gets fired up, it won’t be good for a team supposedly struggling with chemistry issues.
Young: Evan Turner. When the Hawks go to their second unit that largely consists of Louis Williams, Shelvin Mack, DeMarre Carroll, and Mike Scott, you HAVE to take advantage of the lack of defensive power. Hit and miss, we’ve seen Turner turn on the switch and revert to Philly-like antics. They’re sometimes bad, but nothing can be worse than a stale offense. It’s time to bring some fire to one of the worst second units in basketball. If that’s done, Indiana makes it easy on themselves to escape early, and get more rest.
Wade: C.J. Watson. The Pacers have looked more like their old selves since he returned after sitting out (essentially) 18 straight games with injury. His 20 points against the Thunder were huge last Sunday, and his ability to produce off the bench becomes even more important if George Hill continues to disappoint with his output.
Rettig: The entire Pacers bench. Ian Mahinmi could prove his worth if Roy Hibbert struggles to defend Atlanta’s perimeter big men. C.J. Watson will make a big difference in relief of George Hill with his shooting and defense. Evan Turner may see extensive minutes as a ball-handler — distributing to the likes of Watson, Luis Scola and potentially Rasual Butler for open jumpers.
Friedman: Evan Turner. I think he has a lot of potential as a creator with the bench if he’s used correctly. We saw a little of that in the first half of the second to last game of the regular season against the Thunder. He had no points but had four assists which I think is how he can help out the Pacers the most and he’s also pretty good in the open floor.
4. What’s one BOLD prediction for this series?
Eugene: Roy Hibbert has multiple double-doubles. That’s by attaining double figures in points and rebounds, not dejected looks and missed missed shots. He got the rest he needed, he got the confidence by grabbing seven boards in the first half against Orlando, and hopefully he got that double session with team psychologist Chris Carr that he’s been looking for. Maybe this is just wishful thinking, though.
Young: George Hill (yes, the hometown hero is still on the team) explodes for a performance similar to his Feb. 7performance vs. Portland, in which he scored 37 points and made 12-of-19 field goals. Pacers don’t need 30 or more from the struggling point guard, they just need huge shots when things break down and confidence from the most important position on the floor. Put Rajon Rondo or another pure point with Paul George and you may get a more fluid offense. Just a thought.
Wade: David West carries the Pacers and clearly looks like the team’s MVP by the time it’s over. After a long slump, he has made 37-of-60 shots (61.7 percent) in his last five games, while averaging 17.6 points per contest. He has long been the team’s leader behind the scenes, and he’ll extend that to the court when his teammates need it the most.
Rettig: Lance Stephenson proves to be the difference. I think Stephenson could be the reason why the Pacers return to the Eastern Conference Finals. Again, the kid is capable of posting a triple-double any given night. Nobody in an Atlanta uniform can guard him. He’s in a contract year, so it’s a make-or-break playoffs for him. Time for Frank Vogel & Co. to let him loose.
Friedman: The bench scores over 30 points per game. They’ve underperformed this season but they’ve shown signs of late and I think they’ve gained enough confidence and can carry it into the playoffs. Evan Turner has been getting better and Luis Scola has been hitting more consistently from mid range. Add that to CJ Watson coming back and Ian’s consistent play, I think they could really come alive in the playoffs and surprise some teams.
5. Who wins this series and in how many games?
Eugene: Indiana in 5. I think it’s a gentleman’s sweep for the Pacers: take the first three games, concede one on the road in Atlanta, finish it off at home. Despite all the woes at the end of the season, the Pacers seemed to get the best of both worlds with rest for the starters, reps for the bench and homecourt for the East tournament. Just stay out of the Gold Club, fellas. You’ve gotta deal with Chicago in a couple of weeks.
Young: Indiana takes it in six games. It’s funny, but Doc Rivers, to this day, remains 100 percent accurate when he said “it’s a make or miss league.” Teams such as Houston and Golden State play with perimeter mentalities for 48 minutes. That results in some nights where the hoop feels like a ocean, and they don’t lose when guys are scorching from deep. Atlanta is in that category, because of Kyle Korver. The Hawks can streak their way to a win in Phillips Arena, and maybe use Paul Millsap to knock Indy out of sync for another game. In the end, I’ll take a defense that was on pace to be historically great in the game’s history.
Wade: Pacers in six. They are playing too inconsistently right now to knock off the Hawks in five or fewer, and the Pacers have long struggled to win in Atlanta. Last year’s playoff series between the two went six, and I expect the same this postseason.
Rettig: Pacers in five. I think Indiana storms out of the gates and controls games 1-3, before the Hawks pull away in game 4 in Atlanta. The teams return to Indy for game 5, as the Pacers win the series in front of the home crowd.
Friedman: Pacers in 5. I know they’ve struggled mightily of late and there’s no real sign that they’ve regained their form, but I just think this Pacers team is too good to not do better against a worse Hawks team than they did last year.