When the Atlanta Hawks walked into Bankers Life Fieldhouse — twice in the last two weeks — and completely owned the Indiana Pacers, everyone’s head sunk. Even more frightening than the fact Indiana just gave up home-court advantage to an eight seed with a sub .500 record was look of dismay on Larry Bird’s face in the crowd full of gold.
Once a 20-point lead for Atlanta on the road, first-year head coach Mike Budenholzer knows they have this one seed’s number. In the playoffs, it’s simple; you take care of business on your home floor, and you don’t necessarily have to win on the road. It’s not the mentality to carry yourself with, but it’s the cold hard truth.
Not for these Pacers, anymore. The coveted one seed they begged for since training camp — throw it out the window. Indiana must now pray it has enough confidence and the crowd is behind the team enough to overcome adversity in Game 2 (on Tuesday), or the Pacers will be traveling to Phillips Arena trailing 2-0. Atlanta is a venue the Pacers despise, as they’ve lost 12 of the last 13 regular season games in Georgia, and they must remember the 90-69 embarrassment the Hawks gave them in last year’s Game 3 when the two met.
Finger rested on his cheek and with a nervous wife beside him, Bird didn’t appear shocked at the results. Who would be? This result has been brewing since the home loss to Golden State after the All-Star break.
Indianapolis native Jeff Teague continues to expose Indiana’s defensive pressure in the back-court, and if you’ve been watching closely since February, it’s nothing new.
Teague scored a playoff-career-high 28 points while hitting 9-of-19 field goals, but that doesn’t do him justice for how much he mentally and physically drained Indiana in Game 1. You could search to find some more meaningful phrases, but nothing fits the bill better than: “They can’t contain me.”
It’s the truth. And it isn’t just Teague.
The Pacers can’t contain formidable point guards in general.
Teague serves as one of Hill’s more difficult tasks, though he has a lot in today’s point-guard driven league. When Atlanta matched the offer sheet to bring Teague back to the Hawks, it had a lot to do with his ability to knock down shots and add to the barrage Korver gives them. But even more so, Teague thrives in the mid-range game. Indiana has been acknowledged as one of the teams that wants to force “contested long two-point jumpers.”
Some of the time, Frank Vogel’s team does a decent job. It doesn’t phase Teague, however, and he proved that in his last two appearances in Indiana.
The use of a Teague/Paul Millsap pick-and-roll (or pick-and-pop) continues to aggravate Hill, as shown here From Sunday’s Game 1.
It’s weird to say this, but against Atlanta, this is probably the toughest screen roll or pop to guard for Hill and David West. Paul Millsap, the screener, has increased his 3-point capabilities this season, shooting 2.5 more attempts from the outside. Thus, he’s shooting 2.5 percentage points better from deep this season, at 35.8 percent.
It’s a threat, and it stops West from being able to hang back for any help on the ball:
Needless to say, Teague is used to burying shots from this range in space. He connected on a respectable 40% of all shots 15-19 feet from the rim (where he’s at in the illustration) during the season. That eclipsed the level of James Harden (39.1 percent) and DeMar DeRozan (39.4 percent).
West can’t do a thing about the situation, as he’d be scorned to no end if he didn’t give himself a chance to recover on Millsap’s perimeter shot. These sequences leave two options for Atlanta — Teague jumper or Millsap triple — and it could be just enough to spell the end of Indiana.
One of the only steps Frank Vogel can take is to put the longer, bigger Paul George on Teague, and let Hill try his luck on Kyle Korver. It’s better than getting burned and just taking the abuse.
There was more where that came from, in different variations.
Teague, who loves to go left just as much as right, uses another Millsap screen as a decoy. From there, I’m torn. It’s understandable that Teague has more lateral quickness than Hill and takes defenses to the rim on a nightly basis, but it’s unacceptable to allow Teague to beat everyone off the dribble.
Teague literally beats Hill as if he’s standing still, and gets the ridiculously open drive to the cup.
Once again, it’s the matchup problems that create this. With Atlanta being one team that can pour gasoline on a fire from 3-point range, you can’t expect guys to fully leave shooters with the terrific IQ of Teague on hand. We’ve seen it too many times: He can make the pass to Korver or a big on the wing that leads to death for Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Hill must be capable of defending the other hometown hero, there’s no other way around it. If he can’t take this assignment to heart and put up a defensive fight, how on Earth would he fare against Russell Westbrook? Not just last Sunday, but for a seven-game series.
It’s not the first time, by any means, that Indiana has had issues defending pick-and-roll sequences with young, explosive point guards. We’re about to see possibly the best of the young studs taking it to the Pacers.
Hardcore fans, do you remember when Damian Lillard came to town in the February 7 thriller?
The player I’ve deemed a future sensation and my personal second favorite to watch, Damian Lillard, went punch for punch with George Hill in this Friday night overtime classic.
This situation here has been a problem for Indiana during their infamous March-April struggles, as they haven’t figured out the right defensive strategy on attacking point guards. Lillard, to the contrary, loves to attack more from the pull-up game than at the rim. It’s just who he’s always been.
Here, using the screen set by Victor Claver, Lillard soon realizes he has an incredible amount of space when Ian Mahinmi drops back to protect the rim.
Unable to fight through the much larger Claver, Hill realizes it’s a wrap. No matter how off-balanced and unset Lillard is on these types of shots, it’s nearly automatic. It’s similar to what we’ve seen from Jeff Teague in the last two beatdowns Indiana experienced.
It’s even worked on Roy Hibbert, if that’s still the guy’s name who got rejected by Korver in embarrassing fashion on Sunday:
With nobody to hedge the screen set on Hill, and the point guard unable to fight through, it becomes Lillard vs. Hibbert. Taking Hibbert to the rack would just equal help defense from West and/or Danny Granger, so the pull-up becomes the best option. It helps to have someone cutting off the ball handler after the screen comes. That’s normally West or Scola. When it doesn’t happen, Indiana’s bigs have to make a decision of how to defend the guards.
Most of the time, it doesn’t matter:
If I was Hill, I would have pulled all my hair out by now. It’s the only trouble with having such a dominant front court on defense. Teams look to eat from the outside, and Atlanta is just as good as Portland at it.
There’s even more instances this season Hill wasn’t the one being screened. But yet, defenses are taking advantage of Hibbert’s immobility and rim protection:
Against the Washington Wizards — a potential second round matchup — John Wall has joined the company in figuring out the perfect way to use screens.
Wall hasn’t been known to be a terrific shooter since his days at Kentucky, but Washington attempted more mid-range jumpers than ANY team this season. He’s not about to try his luck at the rim.
This points out a huge commonality with teams in this league: players are growing more fond of making bigs extend themselves on the floor.
It becomes much clearer as to how Washington was able to spark the struggles again for Indiana, who had lost three straight at the time, including this matchup.
For Atlanta, Teague has done his homework with this Pacers’ defense. He knows he can’t attract a ton of help with all the weapons he has in the rotation. Despite not being an outspoken leader on the court, he’s going about this first-round series in the only manner that will beat Indiana.
Don’t get it twisted, now.
Teague abused Indiana on four insanely impressive drives that involved splitting double teams, avoiding the shot-blocking trees in the middle, and having his way with the reeling Pacers.
Face it, we became accustomed to this all through Game 1:
Nonetheless, when Teague advanced into the paint and was determined to make things happen, there was NO sense of urgency to stop him. None.
Bird once implied that his team is rarely ever the aggressor. They’re always the unit that has to respond to an attack.
He’s correct, and there’s no indication that it will stop.
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