Sunday is do or die for the Indiana Pacers

The Indiana Pacers must win on Sunday or they will most likely find themselves in the Play-In Tournament.
Atlanta Hawks v Indiana Pacers
Atlanta Hawks v Indiana Pacers / Dylan Buell/GettyImages

The Indiana Pacers made their bed on Friday, and now they have to avoid laying in it.

After three straight wins, including one to the Miami Heat in a tense, standings-deciding game, the Pacers had a chance to clinch their first playoff berth in four years on Friday, against the vengeful Cleveland Cavaliers. Cleveland also had something to play for, as a win would also guarantee them a playoff spot and prevent Indiana from taking the season series, instead possibly making it a tie. With all of this in mind, the stakes were high going into tipoff.

Unfortunately, only one team came out looking like they knew the stakes, as the Cavaliers started the game with a 35-point first-quarter and a 70-point half, shooting 60% from the field and 50% from deep while doing so. While Indiana didn't shoot terribly from the field, at 53%, they only shot 33% from deep and committed plenty of unnecessary turnovers en route to 59 points at the half.

Indiana picked up the pace a little in the third half, outscoring Cleveland by eight points and cutting the lead to three going into the final quarter. However, despite making it a one-possession game at times, Cleveland's late-game surge was too much for Indiana to overcome and the Cavaliers got away with a 129-120 win behind 33 points from Donovan Mitchell and 29 points from Jarrett Allen.

The Pacers had an opportunity to control their destiny and put their playoff hopes to fruition once and for all, but they squandered it, and with Philadelphia beating Orlando as well, Indian heads into the final game of the season tied with the 76ers with one game-deciding both team's fortunes.

Sunday is do-or-die for Indiana. What feels like just another regular season game for the lowly Atlanta Hawks, who have a play-in date with the Chicago Bulls coming up, is something more for the Pacers. For the Pacers, this upcoming game is the biggest game of their season, bar none.

For Indiana, it's simple. Just like the Cleveland game, win and you're in. If the Pacers get the victory against Atlanta, they will achieve no worse than the sixth seed with a chance to move up to five depending on what else happens around the league.

However, if they lose to Atlanta, and some other teams take care of business, they can very easily drop as low as the eighth seed, which wouldn't even give them home-court advantage in the play-in. This is a nightmare scenario for the Pacers, as they are known to be very iffy in one-game scenarios this season, and provided they lose to whoever they face in the first play-in game, they may very well face the Chicago Bulls again for a chance to play the mighty Boston Celtics in the first round, a surefire death sentence for the team.

While there are ways the Pacers can find their way out of the play-in if they lose on Sunday, that would require multiple losses from other teams and seems more far-fetched than Indiana just taking care of business against a worse team. However, that is exactly what the Pacers have struggled with this year, as they have dropped multiple winnable games against bad teams to land themselves in this exact situation.

Sunday against the Hawks cannot be one of those games under any circumstances. The Pacers are currently up 3-0 in the season series against Atlanta and need one more win to secure a playoff spot. Luckily for them, the Hawks have nothing to gain from a win on Sunday, and may possibly rest their best players altogether. However, the Pacers cannot use this as an excuse to coast through the game and must treat it like a playoff game, which it essentially is.

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With the stakes high as ever on Sunday, and the season coming down to the wire, it is up to the Indiana Pacers to control their own destiny and claw their way back to the playoffs after all they have gone through this season. Best of luck.