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Pacers Can't Flip Switch Against Hawks In Game 1

After failing to pull away from the Atlanta Hawks in the first half on Saturday night, the Indiana Pacers laid an egg fitting for Easter weekend in the third quarter of their playoff opener. The Hawks cruised to a 101-93 win at Bankers Life Fieldhouse to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.

The Pacers raced out to the NBA’s best record ahead of the All-Star break on the strength on dominant second-half runs. After struggling as the regular season wound down, barely holding onto the top seed in the Eastern Conference, the Pacers allowed the eighth-seeded Hawks to steal home court advantage without much difficulty.

Atlanta took control of the game in the third and didn’t let go. The only one of the sixteen playoff teams with a losing record, they hung 30 points on the top-rated defense in the regular season -- Indiana allowed just 99.3 points per 100 possessions. Led by Jeff Teague, who had a playoff career-high 28 points, the Hawks shot 50% from the field in the quarter, went 9-for-10 from the foul line and committed just two turnovers.

The issues for the Pacers were two-fold. They couldn’t stop the Hawks and their offense wasn’t nearly efficient enough to keep them in the game. While the Pacers worked to scrap together points, Teague and Paul Millsap combined for 27 points on 15 shots in the decisive quarter. 

Indiana went 5-for-19 in the third and turned the ball over five times. Paul George, an early-season MVP candidate, couldn’t get anything to fall as the game tilted towards the road team. George went 1-for-7 from the floor, including 1-for-4 from three.

Hawks From Deep

It was well documented heading into the series that the Hawks would lean heavily on the three ball. Only the Houston Rockets attempted more three-pointers per game than Atlanta (25.8), who ranked 13th in percentage (.363).

The Pacers defend the perimeter well, when on their game, running opponents off the line -- teams averaged just 19 threes per game against Indy. They held opponents to 34.5% from deep, the fourth-lowest percentage in the NBA. 

Atlanta hoisted 30 three-pointers in Game 1, a high rate, but they weren’t overly efficient. They hit 11, shooting 36.7%, which is right around where you’d expect given their performance during the season. Instead, the Hawks pounded the bigger Pacers in the paint, going 24-for-29 from the line. They averaged fewer than 22 free throw attempts during the regular season.

Hometown Heroes

In a battle of Indianapolis point guards, Jeff Teague dominated George Hill.

Teague’s career night was highlighted by 10 trips to the line. Hill and the Pacers’ other guards couldn’t keep up with Teague’s speed or his shifty moves, resulting in desperate fouls simply to avoid getting burned.

Remember the 2011 playoffs when a young George shadowed Derrick Rose? Frank Vogel should consider a scheme where George is the primary defender on Teague, especially since Hill and Lance Stephenson are capable of hanging with Kyle Korver, DeMarre Carroll and Lou Williams. 

It couldn’t hurt as the Hawks are most efficient offensively when Teague is in control and his teammates are taking advantage of a defense that has been stretched out.

On The Boards

The Pacers have a size advantage, as they do against most teams, but it wasn’t on full display Saturday night. They had a +4 rebounding differential in Game 1, but the gap will have to be bigger if they are going to win two of the next three games to earn back home court.

Atlanta had the fourth-lowest rebounding percentage in the NBA, while Indiana had the third-highest percentage.

The Hawks’ frontcourt trio of Carroll, Millsap and Pero Antic grabbed 25 rebounds in 48 chances (data from NBA.com). George, David West and Roy Hibbert corralled 21 of 35 potential boards. Indiana had some defensive switch issues that kept players out of rebounding position, which is one of the reasons the frontcourt had so many fewer chances. On the bright side, they had a promising advantage in percentage of rebounds grabbed (60% to 52%).

It doesn’t help that the Hawks attempt so many threes. The long rebounds are far less predictable and there were at least a handful of times in this game when the ball simply bounced over a few jumping Pacers back to the Hawks.

Body Language

For the first two minutes, the Pacers brought the fight to the Hawks. Over the remaining 46 minutes, Indiana waited for the game to turn in their favor instead of going out and grabbing hold of the momentum.

In a disturbing trend, the body language was terrible as adversity piled up. They closed out the season with a strong final week after a disappointing loss to the Miami Heat, seemingly righting the ship enough to continue sorting out their issues while dispatching of the Hawks.

It was clear just a few seconds into the second half that they haven’t gotten rid of enough bad habits to look past a team that only made the playoffs because the New York Knicks dug themselves too big of a hole to overcome in the final month of the season. The Pacers entered the season with title aspirations. The Hawks entered it thinking about the lottery.

In a vacuum, you’d have guessed the reverse when watching Game 1.

RealGM's Playoff Predictions

Here are the playoffs predictions from eight of RealGM's writers.

Christopher Reina (@CR_Reina)

First Round Winners: Pacers, Bulls, Raptors, Heat, Spurs, Rockets, Clippers, Thunder

Second Round Winners: Pacers, Heat, Spurs, Thunder

Conference Finals Winners: Heat, Thunder

Finals Winner: Thunder

The wear and tear of reaching The Finals in each season since the formation of the Big 3 will finally catch up with the Heat against the Thunder. Kevin Durant and LeBron James will be as brilliant as expected in this series, but it will come down to how healthy and effective Russell Westbrook is compared to Dwyane Wade, along with how stubborn Scott Brooks is with his rotations. With superstars potentially moving around again this offseason, this could be the last best shot for Oklahoma City.

Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania)

First Round Winners: Pacers, Bulls, Raptors, Heat, Spurs, Rockets, Clippers, Thunder

Second Round Winners: Pacers, Heat. Spurs, Thunder

Conference Finals Winners: Heat, Thunder

Finals Winner: Thunder

Unseating the two-time reigning champions is difficult, but Oklahoma City has the likely MVP and a motivation that still permeates from its defeat in The Finals last season. The Heat's health also could be put into jeopardy this late into a fourth straight run to the championship series.

Jonathan Tjarks (@JonathanTjarks)

First Round Winners: Spurs, Thunder, Clippers, Rockets, Pacers, Heat, Raptors, Bulls

Second Round Winners: Spurs, Thunder, Pacers, Heat

Conference Finals: Thunder, Heat

Finals Winner: Heat

Miami still has the best player in the world and they've done a much better job of managing Wade's minutes in the regular season. Watch out for Greg Oden and Michael Beasley - I could see both playing a huge role at certain points in the playoffs. 

Daniel Leroux (@DannyLeroux)

First Round Winners: Spurs, Thunder, Clippers, Rockets, Pacers, Heat, Nets, Bulls

Second Round Winners: Spurs, Clippers, Pacers, Heat 

Conference Finals Winners: Spurs, Heat 

Finals Winner: Heat

This year is challenging because I feel the Spurs are the best team, but Miami has the twin benefits of being more likely to make the Finals due to a weaker conference and having the best player in the world will of course prove valuable should they make it. Health will be a major factor and it would make sense for it to hit the Heat due to their age but that does not trump their other advantages in my mind.

Andrew Perna (@Andrew_Perna)

First Round Winners: Pacers, Bulls, Nets, Heat, Spurs, Blazers, Clippers, Thunder

Second Round Winners: Pacers, Heat, Spurs, Thunder

Conference Finals Winners: Heat, Thunder

Finals Winner: Thunder

Durant will best LeBron as the league’s MVP and deal another blow by preventing the Heat from three-peating in June. Oklahoma City will have two of the best three players in the Finals, which will be the determining factor even if Miami has three of the top five.

Sam Yip (@SamYip_NBA)

First Round Winners: Pacers, Bulls, Nets, Heat, Spurs, Rockets, Clippers Thunder

Second Round Winners: Pacers, Heat, Spurs, Thunder

Conference Finals Winners: Heat, Spurs

Finals Winner: Spurs

Although Miami has been on top of the basketball world for two straight seasons, San Antonio's roster along with their improved bench will likely dethrone the defending champions. The Spurs were one Tim Duncan layup away from winning their first title since 2007 last season. The new 2-2-1-1-1 Finals format will give the Spurs an edge with their home court advantage.

Benjamin Cantor (@BenCantor_NBA)

First Round Winners: Pacers, Heat, Nets, Bulls, Spurs, Thunder, Clippers, Rockets

Second Round Winners: Pacers, Heat, Spurs, Thunder

Conference Finals Winners: Heat, Spurs

Finals Winner: Spurs

Although the Thunder have given the Spurs trouble in the past, Popovich always seems to have a way to adjust to opponents who have beaten him in the past. Last year, many people thought the Grizzlies might give the Spurs trouble because of what happened in 2011, but Pop and the Spurs clearly showed they knew what adjustments to make when they swept Memphis in the conference finals. I think San Antonio's defense against Miami in last year's finals was outstanding and this year they'll have home court advantage in the finals. 

Dan Friederg (@danfriedberg)

First Round Winners: Pacers, Bulls, Nets, Heat, Spurs, Rockets, Clippers, Thunder

Second Round Winners: Pacers, Heat, Spurs, Thunder

Conference Finals Winners: Thunder, Heat

Finals Winner: Thunder

With LeBron and KD both at the peak of their powers, the role players will make the difference. Caron Butler, Jeremy Lamb, and an improving Reggie Jackson will tip the scales over an aging Ray Allen, a fragile and unproven Greg Oden, and an empty space where Mike Miller used to be. Durant will hoist his first championship trophy to go with his first MVP award, and the world shall rejoice.

D-12 & LMA: Previewing Rockets Vs. Blazers

The Houston Rockets have been consistently strong this year and the first regular season of the Harden-Howard duo turned out to be a success. Despite persistent questions about the team’s lack of commitment to perimeter defense, the Rockets won 54 games including 33 at home, which was the fourth most in the league.

The Portland Trail Blazers were the talk of the league after winning 20 of their first 24 games. They were mostly able to sustain their productivity on offense, but leaky defense caused them to go through two prolonged slumps during the regular season.

Here are the efficiency ratings for both teams during the 2013-14 season.

 

ORTG

DRTG

Net RTG

Rockets

108.6

103.1

+5.5

Trail Blazers

108.3

104.7

+3.5

Now, here’s when they faced off against each other.

 

Wins

ORTG

DRTG

Net RTG

Rockets

3

114.6

105.0

+9.6

Trail Blazers

1

105.0

114.6

-9.6

It seems that the Rockets offense exploded against the Blazers while the Blazers were unable to match their own typical offensive production when playing Houston. One of the primary reasons for this is because of the disparity in offensive efficiency between each team’s All-Star big man during these games.

Rockets Offense Vs. Blazers Defense

Dwight Howard was able to score more against Portland than he was against most other opponents. Check out how his stats against the Blazers exceeded his normal averages.

Dwight Howard Stats (All per game)

 

PTS

FGA

FG%

Paint

2nd Chance

Vs. Blazers

25.5

15.0

63.3%

19

5

Season Avg.

18.3

11.3

59.1%

13.1

3.9

Howard got more touches and shot at a better percentage versus the Blazers. This is interesting because Robin Lopez is generally considered to be a competent post defender. The reason Howard was so dominant in the 4 regular season games was because the Blazers decided they were going to resist double teaming Howard when he got the ball in the post in order to stay close to the Rockets 3-point shooters. The Blazers mostly accomplished their goal of curtailing the Rockets’ 3-point attack, as Chandler Parsons, Patrick Beverley, and Francisco Garcia all shot below average from behind the arc. However, the strategy did not do much to slow the Rockets overall offensive output, as Howard constantly took advantage of single coverage in the post to score easily at the rim.

The following clips exemplify how Howard was able to score inside against the Blazers. Notice how the Blazers’ perimeter defenders are content to stay at home on the shooters and watch Howard go up for a dunk.

http://on.nba.com/1meLq4F

http://on.nba.com/1meLvW9

Terry Stotts may have to consider double-teaming Howard in the post in the playoffs if he wants to slow the Houston offense.

Blazers Offense Vs. Rockets Defense

LaMarcus Aldridge and Dwight Howard are vastly different players and the matchup between Portland and Houston reveals how they impact defenses in different ways. Aldridge is most comfortable around the elbows where he can get shoot his midrange jumper over just about any defender. He is an elite shooter from that spot and his excellence in that area is a large part of why the Blazers are the 5th seed in a tough Western Conference.

However, relying heavily on midrange jump shots represents an inefficient method of offense. While Howard shot 59% from the field during the season, Aldridge shot 45.8%. Granted, Aldridge is the primary scoring option on the Blazers offense whereas Howard is only Houston’s second or third. Regardless, Aldridge’s mid-range heavy game is less efficient and doesn’t put as much pressure on a defense as Howard’s inside game.

Here’s a table comparing Aldridge’s season averages to his stats vs. the Rockets.

LaMarcus Aldridge Stats (All per game)

 

PTS

FGA

FG%

Paint

2nd Chance

Vs. Rockets

26.8

23.5

42.8%

11.5

7.0

Season Avg.

23.2

20.6

45.8%

7.8

3.5

Aldridge’s scoring average against the Rockets was higher than his season average but that increase was mainly due to the fact that he took about 3 more shots per game. He did score more in the paint and off second chance opportunities, yet his field goal percentage was lower.

In the same way that the Blazers chose not to double team Howard, the Rockets avoided double teaming Aldridge and were happy to let Terrence Jones defend him one on one. Jones struggles on defense when he has to guard powerful post players but his length and athleticism allow him to have success against more perimeter-oriented big men.

The clip below illustrates how Jones was consistently able to force Aldridge into taking tough contested shots.

http://on.nba.com/1meKXiM

The Rockets didn’t even send a double team when James Harden switched onto Aldridge in the post. This possession demonstrates Aldridge’s reluctance or inability to overpower smaller defenders inside.

http://on.nba.com/1meL5yY

The difference between the way in which Dwight Howard and LaMarcus Aldridge were successful in taking advantage of single coverage was the reason for the Rockets dominance over the Blazers in the regular season. If that trend continues and the defenses don’t make the necessary adjustments in the playoffs, the Rockets should move on to the second round.

Two Reinventions: Previewing Raptors Vs. Nets

Both of these teams reinvented themselves for different reasons during the regular season. For the Raptors, it came after the Rudy Gay trade in freeing up Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. The Nets fixed their season by embracing small ball.

Spurs Remain The Surest Playoff Bet

Like Bill Belichick with the Patriots, Gregg Popovich conducts a strict system style of team ball consequently demanding respect and discipline from every player, no matter how valuable or invaluable they are to the franchise.

NBA Playoff Fantasy: Play For $100,000 In Prizes

The NBA Playoffs begin on Saturday and DraftStreet is having a 2-Day first round Fantasy Contest with $100,000 in guaranteed prizes to celebrate.

As Long Season Ends, Danny Ainge Provides Insight Into Celtics' Offseason

After trading Pierce, Garnett and Jason Terry to the Nets, Ainge was left with a disorganized roster and future flexibility.

Draft Report: Dante Exum Of Australian Institute Of Sport

While Dante Exum isn’t quite as long and athletic as Andrew Wiggins, he’s far more skilled. He’s an elite athlete in his own right and plays with more poise. You have to play Trading Places with these guys - what would have happened if Exum was on the AAU circuit every summer and Wiggins was in the AIS?

Final Non-National NBA Games Of The Week & NNGW Season Awards

The final jockeying for playoff seeds and the NNGW awards are handed out.

NBA Players Who Could Still Be In College

It’s easy to forget how young some of the players in the league are - freshmen drafted in 2011 would have been college seniors this season. You have to judge young players against guys their age not against the guys in their draft class.

One And Done Model Works For Everyone

John Calipari is 18-3 in the NCAA Tournament at Kentucky. Even more remarkable, he compiled that number with four completely different teams, sending upwards of 15 players to the NBA. It’s a vindication not only of how he built his program, but of the entire “one and done” model.

Al Jefferson Chases The Money Into The Playoffs

Al Jefferson has often been considered an overrated stat compiler in his career, but he has posted his best season and has the Bobcats in the playoffs.

Searching For Journeymen

Amidst the D-League hopefuls and marginal talent, a few players have proven themselves as NBA caliber, and deserve to have roster spots either with the Sixers or with another franchise.

Non-National NBA Games Of The Week (Apr. 7-Apr. 13)

Despite the huge stakes of the final full week of the regular season, the non-national slate looks pretty weak at the outset though Warriors/Blazers on Sunday will have the 5th seed on the line.

The Draft Deadline

The crucial earning years for a basketball player aren't their early 20's but their late 20's, when they are in the prime physically. At that point, it's not about whether they maximized their draft position but whether they developed their game and maximized their earning potential before they start to decline.

Why Oladipo Deserves ROY Honors Over Carter-Williams

Victor Oladipo had analysts dubbing him as the preseason favorite to win the Rookie of the Year award until Michael Carter-Williams' stat-stuffing season began.

How Kentucky Became Better Than The Sum Of Its Parts

In a tourney filled with unlikely stories, none is more unlikely than John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats becoming a Cinderella. Rather than 2-3 guys emerging as stars, everyone on has shared the burden, with each member of their rotation coming up big at a different time.

Haslem, Wade Share 'Maintenance' Plan In Quest For Fourth Ring

Together, Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem share the same highs of prosperity, the same low of futility, in this franchise. Together, their plan for freshness could prove genius in June.

Non-National NBA Games Of The Week (Mar. 31-Apr. 6)

A simply excellent week of non-national games with important tilts almost every night. This also could be the last week of feisty spoiler performances for a few teams that could…let’s say “reassess their priorities” as the lottery picture clears up.

RealGM's D-League Weekly Wrap-Up (Mar. 24-Mar. 30)

On Micah Downs' great week, along with strong showings from Ricky Ledo, Lance Goulbourne, Josiah Turner and Shawne Williams.

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