Three Key Matchups in the Pacers-Hawks Series
The Atlanta Hawks make their way to Indy this weekend for a Sunday afternoon clash against the Pacers. It marks the start of their best-of-seven first round playoff series. The Pacers had what Frank Vogel called “three really good days of practice” leading up the game and they’re ready to finally battle with an someone else.
Here’s a look at the three critical matchups in the series:
PG – George Hill vs. Jeff Teague
This battle doesn’t immediately jump out at you but it may be the most important. From the Pacers side, Hill has rested his sore hip/groin injury all week but it’s clear that it will bother him for the remainder of the season. Where it limits him the most is on pick-and-rolls and pushing off his left leg. The Pacers will run their share of pick-and-rolls and so will the Hawks. Teague, the Indy native, has taken his game up a notch this season and will be a lot for the less-than-100-percent Hill to handle.
Teague’s going to want to get it and go. The Hawks will push the ball as much as they can and try to beat the Pacers in transition. Hill must make Teague uncomfortable and contain his drives, with the help of some inside guys. The coaching staff emphasize how key is is to keep Teague out of the lane. The Pacers need Hill to play like himself, distribute the ball and knock down open shots.
Vogel on Teague: “I think he’s an elite point guard. He’s probably one of the most under-rated point guards in the game … He’s the guy that makes them go. Teague is probably are No. 1 concern.”
F – Paul George vs. Josh Smith
These two are the focal points of their teams. They each lead their respective squads with about 17.5 points per game and are versatile players. Smith, a lefty, has George by a few inches but George’s advantage is on the perimeter. He’ll take take the ball off a screen or in the post, and he’ll also knock down open jumpers.
George won’t necessarily be the guy on him the entire time – David West will likely share the load – but he’s the one trying to get him out of rhythm and forcing shots. When Smith does that, he gets frustrated and gets out of the game. The Hawks may put DeShawn Stevenson, a better defender, on George, who’s struggled over the last two games and shooting 37 percent. George admittedly was worn down but he now believes he has his legs back under him after nearly a week off from games.
George on what makes Smith a tough cover: “His size. He’s a bigger dude so it’s about containing him in the post. I can take him wherever he goes – his ability to push and go, rebound and go.”
C – Roy Hibbert vs. Al Horford
Horford, who’s averaging 17.4 points and 10.2 rebounds, is nearly a double-double guy every game. He runs the floor well, and will sometimes run a pick-and-roll with Smith, which often times results in an easy dunk. Horford, a 54 percent shooter, will knock down shots on the pick-and-pop from the elbows, he’ll post up and he’s very active on the glass.
In four games against Atlanta, Hibbert averaged 9.5 points and seven rebounds. He was actually scoreless in 21 minutes during their Dec. 29th meeting, a 109-100 loss. Zaza Pachulia, who’s out for the season because of an Achilles injury, provided most of the damage that game, finishing with 21 points and 12 rebounds. Hibbert must be vocal in the post, work to be quicker out of the pick-and-rolls and keep playing at the level that he has post All-Star break.
Hibbert on his matchup: “They got bigs that can pick-and-pop and play inside and out. That’s where I’ve struggled the past couple of weeks. It’s going to be tough for myself but I’m just going to work on moving my feet.”
Game 1 will set the tone for the series and being at home, the Pacers have all the more reason to come out focused and on a mission. Frank Vogel stressed the importance of toughness, defense and rebounding all week to his team. The transition game and defending the three-ball are also on the top of their list.
Keep an eye on how the Pacers blitz, or attack, the man dribbling the ball into the screen of pick-and-pops. David West is Indiana’s best player at doing that. And Jeff Pendergraph likely will get more time over Ian Mahinmi for his ability to defend the Hawks’ sets and drill the open jumper on the offensive end. As for the individual matchups, Vogel said there’s a lot more to it.
“I don’t look at head-to-head matchups by position,” Frank Vogel said. “I think five guys got to guard their five guys. It’s not one-on-one basketball.”