Mission accomplished for the Atlanta Hawks as they successfully hold serve at home against the Pacers and send the series back to Indiana for Game 5 tied at 2-2. Many pundits predicted this would be a short series but they clearly overlooked Atlanta's recent dominance over the Pacers at home. The Hawks have now defeated Indiana 13 straight times at Philips Arena dating back to 2006.
Indiana was a below .500 team on the road this season but the Hawks were able to flip the script thanks to their improved defensive play. Indiana made 46 percent of their field goal attempts combined in Games 1 & 2 and saw that percentage plummet to just 33 percent in Games 3 & 4. That stat is no doubt skewed slightly by the Pacers' 27 percent shooting performance in Game 3.
Taking it a step further Indiana made 65 percent of their shots at the rim in Game 1 going 22-34. Game 2 was a similar story as they connected on 57 percent going 20-35. Atlanta adjusted for Game 3 holding the Pacers to 46 percent shooting at the rim on 28 attempts. Indiana was able to get to the basket more in Game 4 but still only converted 48 percent of the time. So if Atlanta is to carry anything on the road with them in Game 5 it is that they need to continue to contest the Pacers inside at the rim and turn them primarily into a jump shooting team.
The Hawks found something when they turned to Josh Smith to guard Paul George and they were able to slow him down considerably after his performance in Games 1 & 2. George averaged 25 points a game over the first two in Indianapolis and converted at the rim 9-12 times. When he wasn't converting at the rim he was getting to the free throw line where he was 21-25 over the first two games.
In Atlanta with Smith primarily matched as a defender, George's production dropped to 18.5 points per game and he converted five of just 10 attempts at the rim. George still was able to get to the free throw line consistently but at a reduced rate going 13-16 but at a reduced rate than the first two games. Its also worth noting that 14 of George's 21 points and all eight of his free throw attempts in Game 4 came in the fourth quarter when he wasn't primarily matched up against Smith as the Hawks dealt with foul trouble.
Roy Hibbert saw a similar trend in the two games in Atlanta where he saw six fewer shots at the rim although he did manage to go 5-6 in close in Game 4. After averaging 15.5 ppg in Indiana, Hibbert dropped to just 11 points in the two games in Atlanta.
The Hawks' adjustment to a bigger lineup was no doubt a major success as was a much more physical defense on the home court. Its painfully clear that Smith is required to keep George in check as his fourth quarter outburst in Game 4 came just a little late and after the Hawks had built a big lead. While Ivan Johnson wouldn't be classified as a "big defender" his physical nature bothered Hibbert and the rest of the Pacers' frontcourt in Atlanta.
So can this Hawks team carry this over on the road? They certainly seem to have the momentum but will have to snap a four game losing streak in Indiana dating back to last season to get the job done. At this point the Hawks are playing with house money. As always the Hawks were dismissed and written off long before this series even began. Now they have a chance to once again make a statement.