Wednesday’s win gives them a 2-0 lead in the playoff series. In just two games they have outscored the Hawks by a combined 32 points. A few more wins would give them a strategic rest before having to advance to Round 2.
As former Colts Coach Tony Dungy was fond of saying, “Take care of the little things and the big things will take care of themselves.” Indeed, taking care of the little things is precisely what they have done in the series thus far. This, business-oriented approach will serve them well advance to game three.
For the looks of things, the Pacers are the superior team in this series. The Hawks were sloppy in their 113-98 loss on Wednesday, having committed three technical fouls. And while the Pacers ran a 5-point deficit early in the game, by halfway through the first quarter they pulled ahead and never looked back.
Atlanta pulled out all the stops to slow them down, but the Pacers refused to turn over the ball. Their 10 turnovers on Wednesday represent an appreciable difference versus the 14 turnovers they had in Sunday’s 17-point win.
The first challenge came when Pacers power forward David West got into foul trouble, and was forced to excuse himself from the action. No worries. The Pacers had no problem filling that vacancy, as small forward Gerald Green stepped in and promptly put up 8 points in fewer than 10 minutes. He would finish the game with 15 points. Atlanta got a break when Lance Stephenson left the first quarter with a bruised hip.
While it’s a truism that any team can beat any other team on any given occasion, the writing would seem to be on the wall for Atlanta. It’s hard to imagine any sort of strategic adjustment that could turn the series around. The Pacers have simply executed better and taken care of the little things. And that’s pretty hard to defend against.
But this is not to say the Pacers were flawless. They did allow Atlanta to shoot a comfortable 49 percent on field goal attempts—barely an improvement over Sunday, when they allowed 50 percent.
But for anyone who likes highlight reel footage, Wednesday’s effort was not lacking in material. Within the final minutes of the first quarter, Pacers center Roy Hibbert showed he can slam dunk with the elite slam dunkers of the league, lofting over Hawks power forward Ivan Johnson from outside the restricted area to make a spectacular play and drawing a foul in the process.
Gerald Green had his moments too. On the right baseline he managed a much faster slam dunk over Josh Smith with just over 6 minutes remaining in the 2nd quarter which extended the Pacers’ lead by 10 points. Then, he hauled in a long, one-armed pass thrown by David West from the opposite baseline.
While George Hill wasn’t what you’d call flashy, he quietly scored 22 points and put an exclamation point on the fourth quarter by hitting a huge three-pointer from the right wing and even drawing a foul from Hawks point guard Jeff Teague, which he went on to convert for a four-point play. Indiana was up by 14 by then, and led by as much as 24 with just 3 minutes left.
Roy Hibbert’s slam dunk claimed the number-1 spot in SportsCenter’s “Plays of the Day,” while Gerald Green’s claimed the number-3 spot. And while Paul George failed to make the highlight reels he was no less impressive, having scored 27 points to go along with 8 rebounds, 4 steals and zero turnovers in nearly 40 minutes—not that he needed a boost in confidence, having been named the NBA’s Most Improved Player on Tuesday.
Bottom line: It’s time to take care of business in Game 3 on Saturday. A win would put the Pacers up 3-0, and seriously undermine the morale of the Atlanta Hawks. Heck, it’s hard to imagine they would even want to win game 4, since doing so would entail returning to Indy for Game 5. The way it looks now, a series sweep is definitely within the realm of possibility.
In a way, the Pacers’ history of 11 straight losses at Philips Arena, including two this season, works to their advantage in the sense that they know it is not a cakewalk, and realize there are no gimmies in this league. Winning two playoff games in a dominating fashion is great, but it their work is not done. They have not won in Atlanta in over 7 years—talk about dry spells! Not that this is the same team; the last time they won in Atlanta the roster still included names like Jackson, Tinsley, Harrington, O’Neal and Foster. So while they will head to Atlanta with some new names, they have the benefit of history to keep them humble, and the motivation to end a losing streak.