But it actually happened.
I wrote last week about how the Hawks really needed to draw the Pacers rather than the Miami Heat. Sure, the Hawks have had moderate success against the Heat. The Hawks could have swept their season series with the Heat, but the playoff result would have remained the same: eliminated in the 1st round. The Hawks probably aren't going to eliminate the Pacers, but what's important is that it's plausible.
Plausibility is what makes the playoffs a sensational experience for fans. The Golden State Warriors weren't going to represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals the year they upset the Dallas Mavericks in the opening round of the playoffs, but that didn't matter. Going into a series knowing the end result makes it hard to get emotionally invested as a fan for obvious reasons. If they're not going to advance why get worked up for it? I'm not sure there is an easy fix for this.
This is what makes being an NBA fan hard at times. With the seven game series format it's incredibly difficult for lower seeds to advance very far in the postseason. Like anything else, there are positive and negative things that come with a format like this. So when a matchup like the Pacers vs. Hawks comes along it's important to embrace the moment. The Pacers are vulnerable, and the Hawks blew them out on the road not too long ago. Where this hope, there is excitement. This playoff matchup encompasses both.
In four games against the Pacers this season the Hawks have scored 104.6 points per 100 possessions while surrendering just 97.3 points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com. The Pacers sit alone at the top of the league in defensive efficiency. Their offensive inefficiencies, however, has plagued the team for months now. In a vacuum, the Pacers defensive metrics should mean they're a team you would want to avoid at all costs. But they're exactly the team you want to face in the first round as an underdog. A team that got off to an incredibly hot start but has been exposed and become incredibly vulnerable as of late. The pressure is all on the Pacers, not the Hawks. That matters.
In the Hawks two victories over the Pacers this season the club averaged 112.6 points per 100 possessions, but mustered together just 96.8 points per 100 possessions in their two defeats. On the flip side, the Pacers 92.5 points per 100 possessions in their two losses and 101.9 points per 100 possessions in their two victories. The Hawks blowout victory is obviously a factor in the large disparity, but what we can gather from this small sample is that the Hawks at a minimum will keep every game close. When they beat the Pacers they've excelled all across the board, but even in their losses they were close because of the Pacers' problems offensively.
One of the major keys in the series will be the Hawks limiting their turnovers. That's something you should always try and limit, but certain teams take advantage of turnovers more than others. The Pacers want the Hawks to turn the ball over often. Why? Well, in the Hawks' losses against the Pacers they've turned the ball over 21.2 times per 100 possessions as opposed to just 14.9 per 100 possessions in their victories. It's a bit cliche, but it's something to monitor throughout the series. Basically, Jeff Teague needs to have a big series.
Sure, the Pacers could start clicking now that the Playoffs have officially started and they accomplished their preseason goal of getting the No.1 seed. That may end up being the case. The more likely scenario is that the Pacers are going to struggle to get to the Eastern Conference Finals with their offense playing the way it is. It's not a coincidence that the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers sit atop the West while also being in the top 7 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Being as well-rounded as possible is critical come playoff time because that's when teams zone in on your team deficiencies.
The Hawks don't sit in the top-7 of either of those categories, but they're well-rounded enough to give the Pacers problems. That's why the Hawks making this a series is plausible.
And plausibility in the NBA playoffs is a good thing.