While the Hawks did the unexpected and trounced Indiana on the road in Game 1, it wouldn't be entirely true to say that the victory was surprising. The Pacers have been in a free-fall for a while now, and even when they were playing their best basketball, the Hawks provided difficult match-up problems for their defense. But it's crunch time for the Pacers now. They can't afford to go into Atlanta down 2-0 in the series.
Question (Daniel Christian): The Pacers were blasted in the second half thanks to a strong outing from Jeff Teague. What does Indiana have to do to right the ship after a less-than-stellar Game 1? Can they stop the bleeding and can they control Teague?
Answer (Tom Lewis): The Pacers have familiar problems to address heading into Game 2 after being thoroughly outplayed by the Hawks in the series opener. With Roy Hibbert MIA and David West saddled with foul trouble, the Pacers were unable to establish any offense through their bigs, which in turn bogged down everything in the halfcourt. This has been an issue for the past couple of months, but at least getting a big game from West would help tremendously.
As for Teague, his play will likely force Paul George to shift to him defensively at some point if not from the tip. PG has done this over his career with troublesome point guards, including Derrick Rose and John Wall. Earlier this year, the Pacers nearly erased a 16-point fourth quarter deficit (yeah, plenty of problems to lean on) against Golden State after PG started covering Stephen Curry and absolutely smothered him to wipe him out of the equation. Teague is a different type of player but they key becomes covering up the rest of the Hawks' options. George Hill (6'9 wingspan) and Lance Stephenson (6'10 wingspan) are plenty long enough to cover Kyle Korver and DeMarre Carroll but with the way Atlanta spreads the floor, it comes down to how much help the individual defenders have to give.
Q: Indiana's recent struggles were covered ad nauseum as the regular season drew to a close. Casual fans assumed they'd turn things around for the playoffs. If Game 1 is any indication, there are still some kinks that need to be worked out. Do you think this is just a matter of "flipping the switch" or is Indiana in real, legitimate trouble?
A: There can't possibly be another light switch to flip in the Fieldhouse and yes, the Pacers are in legitimate trouble. For starters, this Atlanta team is playing well and creates a challenging matchup for the Pacers in general. Indiana needs to play at a high level just to beat the Hawks since they can be so effective on the perimeter, which always works well against the Pacers' defense, even when it is playing at an elite level. They will have their backs against the wall in Game 2 so at some point the fight or flight instincts will kick in and hopefully they tap into the fight.
Q: Paul George is the obvious candidate to provide some offensive answers for the Pacers, but who will help him out? Conventional wisdom says Hibbert would feast on Atlanta's depleted and undersized front court, but his underwhelming play of late seems to be serving as a microcosm for the entire team. Where and from whom can this team get efficient offensive production against Atlanta's defense?
A: The Pacers have to get something from Hibbert and West to ease the burden on the offensive end, which should also create room to operate for George and Lance Stephenson. The Pacers looked sharp on their first two possessions in Game 1, getting a West dunk and Hibbert a point-blank hook. For some reason, they were unable to match those efforts for the rest of the game. The starting unit in particular was far to reticent with the ball and far too unwilling to attack.
Q: The Pacers still should be the better team. They won 56 regular season games. The Hawks won 38. What does Atlanta need to be most scared of entering Game 2 and throughout the rest of the series?
A: We've seen enough of the Hawks this year to know they are currently much better than it may appear if you look at their 38 wins. After absorbing the loss of Al Horford and then a litany of injuries, the current playing rotation seems pretty tied together and has plenty of depth to cause any playoff team trouble. Short of some sort of emotional breakthrough by Roy Hibbert that has him playing in a manner that earned him a coaches' nod to the All-Star game (still seems unreal), the Hawks will be stride-for-stride with the Pacers until this series is decided. The scariest thing for the Hawks will likely be an outburst from Lance Stephenson. He will probably rise up and make a big enough impact in one of these games to earn a win for the Pacers.
Q: What's your prediction for the series? Did the outcome of Game 1 affect your decision at all?
A: Prior to the series I had the Pacers winning in five games, expecting a strong start on their home court to jump-start a nice playoff run. Also, I felt six games wouldn't be an option because that would require winning in Atlanta twice. So now after witnessing the Game 1 crime scene, I'll use up every remaining ounce of positive energy and say the Pacers will rally to win the series in seven games. Hey, if I don't pick them to win, who will?