Games 1 and 2 are over.
Every foible and complaint we've had regarding these Hawks, with coaches Woodson and Drew, all laid itself bare for us to wail and gnash our teeth over.
The Hawks never took the Pacers to the point of even worry about the outcome of the two games and now the series comes to Atlanta (Saturday, 7pm EST, ESPN) where the series really begins.
After all, no series truly begins until a team wins a road game. The Pacers won both home games -- that's somewhat to be expected. they won 75 percent of their games there versus a 19-21 record on the road.
If the Pacers win Game 3 or 4 in Atlanta, well then, we are resigned to know how this series ends. However, did you know the Pacers have not won at Philips Arena since 12/22/2006? That's a stretch of 11 games in a row. The Hawks have held their home court over Indiana and, if they do so again Saturday and Monday, they head back to Indiana all square. That's the goal.
And they can do it -- all the screaming we've done as a fan base wasn't without warrant. The coaching, the playing and the officiating all gave us points of order to register our collective displeasure.
Now it's time to turn to home and Games 3 and 4 in Atlanta and answer these questions:
- Is there any chance Paul George comes down from the mountaintop in Atlanta?
Paul George coming down from his highly efficient, highly productive play is probably not happening unless the Hawks change their starting lineup and put a stronger defender on him, but even then the dude is an all-star, is working hard, and emerging. Give him the Jason Terry Memorial Tip O' The Cap to him and concentrate on closing out on the Pacers guards shooting threes (a below bullet point).
However, one last look shows us his playoff PER is 28.7 whereas his regular season PER was 16.8, so there might be room for some comeback to the mean there.
- Can Kyle Korver regain his 3-point mojo?
One point that can be made about changing the lineup is that it could remove the burden of defending George from Korver, who has stuggled to find his shot thus far in the series.
This struggling also occured in Indiana in the regular season, where Korver shot 31 percent from three and a ghastly 27% overall.
The good news is that he shot 50 percent from three in the two games at home over Indiana. For those who may be concerned that Korver is wearing down, since March 1st and April 1st, Korver has maintained his 50 percent accuracy in shooting.
So it looks like we can plan on seeing the old Kyle Korver back in Atlanta, but should probably remove him from the Paul George Assignment.
- With both the Hawks big men, and we're talking about Josh Smith and Al Horford, play 40+ minutes of A-game basketball?
Al Horford played 40+ minutes 24 times this season, so we're not sailing into Tim Duncan territory (three times) here. Drew can and will play him long minutes.
So why hasn't he done it yet? I don't know. It's a mystery that the Hawks need to resolve.
The Hawks need to have Horford on the court as much as possible to win. The Hawks won 19 of the 24 games in which Horford played long minutes.
And did you know that Al Horford averages 2.2 personal fouls per game -- sixth lowest among centers playing 25 minutes per game? He does not have a foul problem and can probably be trusted with two fouls in the first half and beyond.
- Will the Pacers, a team not known for it's 3-point accuracy, finally regress back to the mean?
The Pacers weren't the worst three-point shooting team in the league this season, but they were the ninth worst, at 34.7 percent. Against the Hawks in this series, they've shot 38.6 percent, good for fourth best.
They have also shot more threes than they would typically shoot, with 22 attempts per game compared to the 19 they would attempt nightly.
Against the Hawks during the season, we see that they shot 36 percent on 22 attempts as well, and when you look at what they did in Indiana versus Atlanta, they shot nearly 40 percent at home versus 32 percent in Atlanta. So we're probably going to see some falloff from their long range accuracy during Game 3 and 4.
- Can the Hawks get a call?
This last point is gratuitous in that every team believes they get hosed by the officials, but let's take a look anyway to see what's going on.
The Hawks foul stats for the regular and post-season:
Regular season: 17.9 personal fouls committed, 3rd fewest in NBA
Regular season: 18.7 personal fouls drawn: 7th fewest in NBA
Regular season vs. Pacers: 21.3 personal fouls committed
Regular season vs. Pacers: 18.0 personal fouls drawn
Playoffs: 25.3 personal fouls committed, 3rd most in playoffs
The Pacers foul stats for the regular and post-season:
Regular season: 20.2 personal fouls committed, 11th most in NBA
Regular season: 21.8 personal fouls drawn, 3rd in NBA
Regular season vs. Hawks: 18.0 personal fouls committed
Regular season vs. Hawks: 21.3 personal fouls drawn
Playoffs: 19.0 personal fouls committed, 4th fewest in playoffs
The Hawks have definitely been whistled for more fouls than during the regular season, even when measuring in their work against the Pacers. It's about a 16 percent increase. Maybe Larry Drew's Horford Treatment was more about the officials and less about Horford himself?
The Hawks fouled the Pacers 23.3 times in Indiana in their two road games. So we can see that the Hawks do tend to foul the Pacers more than their nightly average.
The sample size for these playoffs is small, only two games, so I would expect to see some regression to the mean in terms of fouls called for the rest of the series. Hooray!
Oh, and factor in even more if Kenny Mauer is done working this series. Thanks for the memories, Fonzie.
Overall, there is hope for Games 3 and 4 -- all the numbers from this season indicate that the Hawks will do better and that the first two games may have even been more positive than just the regular season home/road/Pacers splits would have yielded.
Paul George has been other-worldly, and maybe due to Korver having to keep up with him as hurt both Korver's production on offense and increased the effectiveness of George. A change in assignment there could yield double improvement.
You should expect the foul nonsense (as well as the ridiculous technical foul brigade which included the ludicrous T'ing up of Horford) to subside as the team heads back to Atlanta -- and even when they return to Indiana as the sample grows and the numbers settle back into what they have been established as throughout the course of the season.
As the Hawks draw closer to elimination, you should see Larry Drew lean on Horford and Smith, as well as Jeff Teague more -- meaning more 40+ minute game, less full second unit action (especially since the Hawks are without Zaza Pachulia and Lou Williams) and a tighter overall rotation in general.
I hold positive expectations for the Hawks as they return to Atlanta -- with the Pacers struggles in Atlanta and the above stated probable statistical improvements, they should feel good about their chances as well.