The Atlanta Hawks being ahead 3-2 as the underdog against the top-seeded Indiana Pacers and playing the potential close-out game at home would usually mean that there would be a ton of pressure on the Hawks do get the upset done at home and not relinquish home court advantage back to the Pacers for Game 7.
It makes sense that a franchise, and its fan base, would feel the urgent pressure to finish off the upset, move on to the next round and show the necessary improvement as a team by doing so. But this hasn't been a regular season for the Hawks and the need to have that kind of advancement doesn't exist, thereby dulling whatever urgent pressure there may be.
Sure, everybody wants to win. In every nook and cranny of the Hawks world there exists the intense desire to win and it would be disappointing to some degree if they didn't. They have an epic upset sitting right in front of them and closing this out would be remembered quite well if it happened.
But this franchise won't be judged on this playoff series, nor will the long term focus change should the Hawks move onto the second round. There are no long term consequences or ramifications if the Pacers make their way back to the driver's seat in this series and move on to the second round.
It's the complete and total opposite for Indiana. The Pacers have soooooo many items on the agenda should an upset happen, soooooo many players, coaches, etc. that would be impacted by a loss in Game 6 to the Hawks that everybody has to be feeling like they are playing/coaching for their jobs. That's pressure.
The Hawks can continue to feel loose, calm, collected. They are ahead, they know they can win and they have to know that Indiana is feeling the heat and the pressure of needing to advance. The Pacers HAVE to advance. The Hawks don't. The Pacers NEED to advance. The Hawks want to advance. It's a big difference.
The Inside the NBA on TNT crew talked, for a good bit of time actually, about who the pressure is on in Game 6 between the Pacers and Hawks and Charles Barkley thought that the pressure was on Atlanta to win so they wouldn't have to go back to Indianapolis to try and do the same in Game 7. Kenny Smith argued that the pressure is really on the Pacers. Yes, the Hawks have some pressure, but not nearly the type of intense, life or death pressure Frank Vogel, Roy Hibbert and the Pacers' front office is facing by being on the brink of elimination already at the feet of the Atlanta Hawks.
The Hawks, and their fans, will surely feel pressure, but it's the hopeful pressure they'll feel. The type of pressure where you don't expect anything, but you hope and you really want for something to happen. There's butterflies and stomach knots while you anticipate the result.
The Pacers, and their fans, will surely feel pressure, but it's the type of oh-my-I-can't-believe-it's-all-crashing-down-it's-over pressure that nobody likes to feel. It's a crushing pressure, one of lost hope and aspiration. This is the type of unbridled fear pressure that the Indiana Pacers will bear coming into Atlanta for Game 6.
It's do or die for the Pacers. It's the referendum on their talent and season. It's the bell ringing on their future. If it seems like it's a lot, that's because it is. The Hawks have none of that about this season or Game 6. It's all on the Pacers. Good luck with that.