Takeaways From the Pacers’ First Two Playoff Games
Indiana has a firm grip of the series by doing exactly what they were supposed to do, and had to do — take both of the first two games at home. Despite trailing in the early moments of both playoff games against the Atlanta Hawks, they have taken the lead in the first quarter and kept it for the rest of the game. The Pacers are only half done, in regards to the first round of the playoffs, but they have the Hawks right where they want them.
Below are my thoughts following the first two games (in Indianapolis) in the best-of-seven series:
+ Paul George continues to impress, especially now when it really matters. He recorded his second career triple-double in Game 1 and followed that up with a complete performance in Game 2: 27 points, eight rebounds, four steals, three assists and zero turnovers, yep, zip, in 39 minutes. This team will go as far as George takes them because of his versatile offensive game and ability to limit the opponent’s best player. When he has a great night, the team likely also did too and won. (In the regular season, they were 20-8 when he led the team in scoring.)
+ Frank Vogel and his coaching staff are looking pretty smart for their decision to play Jeff Pendergraph ahead of Ian Mahinmi at backup center. They like his quickness, ability to run the floor, blitz on pick-and-rolls and knock down open jumpers. After admittedly playing nervously in the first game, Pendy hit four shots and grabbed seven rebounds in Game 2.
+ Before the series, Vogel said his biggest concern was Jeff Teague because he’s an elite point guard and “the guy that makes them go.” Playing less than 100 percent with a hip/groin injury, George Hill has been efficient, scoring 18 and 22 points, respectively, and having just three giveaways. Behind George, he’s been their second-steadiest hand in this postseason.
+ Look out if Gerald Green can be consistent and continue to provide the scoring boost off the bench that the team so needs. That’s what the team hoped he would do but it’s only happened in spurts. He closed the regular season with a 34-point performance and has since scored 11 and 15. When asked how he’s managed the highs and lows of the season, Green credited his teammates. “I got the best teammates in the world. I couldn’t be on a better team. Constantly all year, they’ve been giving me so much motivation and kept my spirits high. I have to give them a lot of credit for helping to make sure I’m ready.”
+ Yes, their intensity was elevated in Game 2 but the Hawks still looked disinterested. Not everyone, but they looked like a team that was partly thinking about what beach they were headed to rather than getting a defensive stop. A couple times on turnovers, a player took his sweet time getting up the floor. As a group, they also had a difficult time containing their emotions. Three guys were T’d up on Wednesday. No player would speak on it, but the Hawks appeared to be a mentally weak team that was checked out.
+ The Pacers defense will likely be a focal point heading into Game’s 3 and 4 in Atlanta. They have allowed the Hawks to shoot 50 percent and 49.4 percent in the opening to ball games, about eight percent higher than their league’s-best 42 percent that they held opponents to during the regular season. A key for the Hawks has been to get it and go rather than playing a half-court game. In Game 2, the Pacers left 3-point specialist Kyle Korver open far too often. He was 3-of-9 from downtown for nine points.
+ On another topic — Earlier Wednesday, the NBA announced that Memphis center Marc Gasol had won the Defensive Player of the Year award. (Aside: I think it should went to LeBron James.) As for the local flavor, Paul George finished eighth in voting and Roy Hibbert was 10th. With the Pacers leading the league in so many defensive statistics, it’s a wonder they both didn’t finish higher. “I knew I wasn’t going to win it so it really didn’t matter where I placed,” Hibbert said. “If you’re not first, you’re last.” Vogel added: “I think (Hibbert) probably should of been in the top 3…it’s surprising. It’s disappointing.”
+ Injuries will also be something to watch. Lance Stephenson landed hard on his right hip in Game 2 and postgame said it felt “horrible,” but he would play through it. The Pacers need him to be able to play and contribute. The same goes for George Hill, who absorbed a playoff foul, causing him to ice his right elbow postgame.
+ Time to change the tide down south. The Pacers as a franchise has lost 11-straight games in Atlanta but Frank Vogel doesn’t read too much into it, primarily because the core has only played two years together. ”Most of the guys weren’t here for any but two, maybe for of them…The fact that we haven’t won there this year is a factor.” The first game this year was very early, just a week after learning that Danny Granger would be out about three months and before making some important changes, so I’d throw that one out. The biggest sticking point from their second game in Atlanta was Roy Hibbert’s night. All he had was one rebound to show for it. Look for him to make a specific point to get involved early.
As Hawks coach Larry Drew said pregame and a few Pacers reiterated postgame, a series doesn’t start until the road team wins. But I like the Pacers’ chances. I had them winning in five, but it’s looking more and more like a sweep.
With two days between games, again, the Pacers are taking Thursday off before practicing and then flying to Atlanta Friday afternoon.