The moment has arrived.
The Atlanta Hawks return home for a Game 6 match-up against the Indiana Pacers on Thursday night, and with the backing of their home fans at Philips Arena, Mike Budenholzer and company will look to close out Indiana in route to the Eastern Conference Semifinals. With all of that at stake, however, the top-seeded Pacers will inevitably perform as a desperate team with their backs against the wall, and that should make for an incredibly entertaining face-off.
In Game 5, the Hawks finally (and mercifully) broke out of a prolonged shooting slump with 15 threes and off-the-charts efficiency, but Thursday will provide a difficult task. Roy Hibbert played only 12 minutes in Game 5 (including none in the final stages), and it appears that Frank Vogel has chosen to go with his quicker, smaller lineups to counteract Bud's strategies on both ends. With that, there isn't a defined "weakness" for the Indiana defense on the perimeter, and that could make for some more challenging shot opportunities.
On the other end, the Atlanta defense played extremely well in the first half on Monday, but after the break, the massive lead shriveled, and that was helped by some porous defense. Paul George has been the only consistent offensive option for Indy in the series, and that will likely continue despite yeoman's work from DeMarre Carroll, but keeping guys like George Hill, Lance Stephenson and CJ Watson under wraps will be critical from a perimeter defense standpoint.
Up front, the Hawks were able to win the rebounding battle for the first time in the series in Game 5, and while that isn't a requirement, it is essential that Atlanta can hold its own on the glass in order to avoid extra opportunities for the flailing Indiana offense. Individually, it will be interesting to see how Budenholzer handles the front-court rotation from a playing time standpoint, as Pero Antic (6 for 30 from the field, -1.3 PER in the series) has struggled mightily and the Hawks went to a very small lineup for much of the stretch run.
Philips Arena should be rocking to the tune of one of the loudest and most raucous crowds in recent memory, but in the end, execution is king, and the Hawks will need to play at or near their best to vanquish the Pacers. Let's go.
Game Date/Time: Thursday, May 1, 7:00 p.m.
Location: Philips Arena, Atlanta, Georgia
TV: NBATV, SportSouth
Radio: 92.9 "The Game" FM