After all of that, the Indiana Pacers have Jeff Teague and the Atlanta Hawks right where they want them. Tying the series in Phillips Arena with excellent performances from Paul George, highly-chastised George Hill, and veteran David West, Indiana can enjoy having two of the final three games on their home floor.
If there was only one thing running through the casual Pacers fan’s head in the fourth quarter, it had to be foreshadowing the end.
Could you imagine a 3-1 deficit, returning to Bankers Life Fieldhouse, with the most restless crowd in these playoffs? They haven’t had a ton to cheer about since the trade deadline acquisition of Evan Turner, hitting a 16-15 record in that stretch (including playoffs). Turner, playing in 21 minutes after another lackadaisical performance in Game 3 with 1-of-4 shooting, made his mark in the mid-range game in the first half of Game 4. Turner used his mid-post that he’s fond of, hitting three key jumpers from the left corner. Whether it was setting up for a triple in front of Atlanta’s bench or fading to his strong side off Kyle Korver and Louis Williams, Turner finally played exactly how you would want him to as a Granger replacement.
Despite the 13-point disaster in the second quarter, the Pacers were able to head into halftime trailing by only six. A lot of strain has been put on the third quarter for Indiana, but they’ve flipped the switch and locked down defensively to put themselves in position for the fourth.
We often react strongly to sub-par games from George Hill, who never was comfortable putting the “point guard” label on himself before returning to Indianapolis. He still doesn’t praise it.
In San Antonio, Hill would be used as a perfect combo guard to play alongside Tony Parker at times, and even get his share of minutes when Parker rested (see: the Patty Mills role). Hill’s adequate ability to score when needed, and the lack of mentality to set up his teammates to the likes of Rajon Rondo or Chris Paul …. will just have to be tolerated. You can’t completely transform a player into the play-style you want. Instead, the great teams figure out ways to make a system work around what they have on the roster. Indiana is still, after three seasons, trying to solve an equation. Through 90 percent of the last three months, it’s been graduate-level calculus for them.
In the Game 4 win in Atlanta, Hill put up an identical stat line of his Game 2 performance, resulting in 15 points on 5-of-8 field goals. Guess the outcome of both. Wins for the Pacers, where it takes away the need for Lance Stephenson to push the ball erratically, and takes the attention off an overpaid Roy Hibbert. Hill can’t be a no-show. Those asking for C.J. Watson to consume a lot more minutes as the floor general aren’t wrong, but the Pacers need Hill confident for a possible second round matchup with John Wall. If Jeff Teague was a difficult assignment, my prayers are with you in Naptown as Wall is racing up the court in three seconds or less.
David West is the oil to the motor of success for Indiana, and his 3-pointer in the fourth quarter — when the Pacers had their backs against the wall and were forced to make a move — was enough to lift their spirits heading back home.
Frank Vogel on West: “Best will I’ve ever been around as a coach”
It may not mean as much since Vogel has a short resume in coaching, but you can guarantee Gregg Popovich or Doc Rivers would categorize West in the same nature.
With future superstar Paul George, it’s all about bringing this level of intensity and efficiency every night. In this series, George has put his big-boy pants on and came to play. In his only unsatisfactory performance, Game 3’s 12 points on 3-of-11 shooting was just another reason why folks began to pencil the Hawks into the East semi-finals. Along with potential greatness, comes the feature of “having no short-term memory.” At this point in the year, you can’t sit back and dwell on bad nights, plays that anger your fans, or bad passes that teammates get frustrated with. It has to be left in the past, only remembered when reviewing film the next day. In Game 4, George imposed his will on the Hawks’ wing defense of DeMarre Carroll, Cartier Martin, Mike Scott, and Kyle Korver. With ball movement that we grew to love in December, it’s hard for any defender out there to stop all of George’s attacks. Especially from beyond the arc, but he doesn’t get a 50 percent efficiency from long range in this series (13-of-26) without spacing the floor and straying away from the terrible isolation style that cost them regular season wins.
George is a max-contract player for a reason, as is Hibbert. Only one of them is playing like it.
Something crucial to take away from Game 4, heading into a pivotal setting on Monday, is the fact that Indiana is a formidable bunch when they are connecting from the outside. Often times, we find fans begging for Chris Copeland to come off the bench and act as a threat from 3-point range, but more consistency has to come from the core six or seven in terms of stretching the defense. Game 4 resulted in nine 3-point buckets on 39 percent shooting. Nobody is saying go all out and let them fly, but it’s what happens when they constantly keep Atlanta moving on defense.
In all of the regular season and opening round combined, the Pacers have nailed at least 9 3-pointers in 22 games.
Their record when doing so? 18-4. When the defense is energetic and determined, they hold their own and it’s all up to Indiana’s offense to take advantage. For them to put Atlanta away and even remotely have a shot against the balanced attack of Washington in the second round, more of the outside game has to fall Indiana’s way.
With two chances to send Teague packing in his hometown city of Indianapolis, the Pacers can’t blow it. Or we’ll see the wrath of Larry Bird himself.