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Pacers Turn Up Defense, Show Signs Of Life In Game 2 Win

Facing a potentially crippling situation early in the third quarter against the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday night, the Indiana Pacers got back to what earned them the best record in the Eastern Conference.

Trailing by as many as 11 in the first half at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the Pacers pulled away from the Hawks with a suffocating defensive effort over the final 20 minutes.

It all started when Paul George dove on the floor to chase a loose ball alongside Paul Millsap. Atlanta won the subsequent jump ball, but Jeff Teague missed a jumper and Lance Stephenson took off in search of early offense. Stephenson converted a reverse layup and was fouled, giving Indiana a 62-59 lead. They never turned back.

After playing hesitantly through the first six quarters of the series, the Pacers put the Hawks on their heels during a decisive second-half run that led to a blowout 101-85 victory.

Indiana went small and contained Jeff Teague, who had been burning them on penetration off pick-and-rolls with Pero Antic and Millsap. Teague had 12 points in the first half after a dazzling performance in Game 1 on Saturday night, but was held to just two points on 1-for-5 shooting after the break.

George Hill, the quietest of Indiana's five starters, was huge in the third. He scored 10 points and helped key a 31-13 edge in the period and a 19-0 run that stretched into the fourth quarter. During the run, the Hawks went more than six minutes without scoring.

The Pacers dominated defensively even with Roy Hibbert cheering on the sidelines. After forcing the ball inside to their center on offense, Frank Vogel adjusted to the opponent and gave Ian Mahinmi and Luis Scola heavy minutes in the second half. Mahinmi isn't Hibbert on the defensive end, but the Pacers have molded him into a similar defender in their system. He did a fine job protecting the rim as Atlanta looked flummoxed. Scola was a huge offensive weapon, putting up 20 points on 9-for-14 shooting.

Not surprisingly, great defense led to easy offense.

With the Hawks going 5-for-20, including 1-for-8 from deep, in the third, the Pacers attacked the basket and carried confidence to the other end of the floor. Indiana went 12-for-16 in the quarter, while building a +4 rebounding edge and cashing in on all their trips to the foul line.

This performance alone doesn't mean the "old" Indiana Pacers are back, but it's certainly a step in the right direction.

"King" George

When the Pacers needed their best player to put them on his back, Paul George did just that. He was a game-high +29 with a full stat line -- 27 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists and four steals. More importantly? He committed just one turnover and didn't force his offense as he has so often post-All-Star break.

George took seven threes, making five of them, and attacked the basket rather than settle for mid-range jumpers. He took two such shots, with his remaining seven attempts coming in, or near, the restricted area.

His performance was also noteworthy on the defensive end as he spent some time checking Teague. His length and quickness create problems for any point guard.

Team Defense

Hibbert may be the "face" of Indiana's league-best defense, but on Tuesday night they put together a team performance that bodes well for the remainder of the series. The All-Star center played 24 minutes, six fewer than in the series opener, as Vogel went with a smaller, more athletic front-line to counter Atlanta's unorthodox attack.

There is no question that Hibbert has been vital to Indiana's success, but there is also no rule that says you have to stick with a specialized player when mismatched. The Pacers are looking to get back on track and enter the title conversation again, not to march out Hibbert because of his contract and label as a starter.

Vogel forced offense inside to Hibbert far too much in the first half and when the big man focused more on rebounding and defense than trying to score over the smaller Millsap and Antic, the Pacers looked more like the team that had the best record in the league at the season's midpoint. A combined 14 points and 12 rebounds without a single block in 54 minutes is disappointing, but if Indiana advances Hibbert will have plenty of chances to dominate on both ends.


The Hawks couldn't recover when the Pacers imposed their will in the second half, but over a stretch from the end of the first to the beginning of the second quarter Atlanta's offense absolutely handcuffed Indiana.

Even when the Pacers are dialed in defensively, it's hard to stop the Hawks when they are hitting on all cylinders. If Teague and Lou Williams are slashing and Kyle Korver, DeMarre Carroll and Co. are hitting from deep it's difficult for any team to defend them.

Parties Not Heard From

Stephenson ignited the Pacers in the third quarter with his three-point play, but he and David West were largely unheard from in Game 2. West battled foul trouble early and finished with eight points and two rebounds. His passing helped Indiana foster better ball movement -- he had six assists -- but a huge outing is lurking as the series shifts to Atlanta.

Meanwhile, Stephenson found himself on the bench more than he'd like and we've come to expect. He logged just 25 minutes, his lowest total since the Pacers beat the Hawks 89-85 on Feb. 4. He wasn't Bad Lance, but the triple-double machine had just seven points, five assists and three rebounds and was a +3 in a 16-point win. It will be interesting to see how Stephenson comes out on Thursday night.

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.

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Defense Clicks Late, But Pacers Canít Recover

The Pacers were locked in defensively in the second half on Monday night, but it was too little too late as the Atlanta Hawks won 102-91 and evened the first round best-of-seven series at two games apiece.

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How Many Players Teams Acquire At Each Trade Deadline On Average

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YOLO Trades That Make Sense

Win-win trades that also make sense financially will become even more rare in the NBA's post-lockout era. Here are trades for the Lakers, Mavericks, Hawks, Blazers, Celtics, Nuggets and Spurs that make sense for all parties.

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While the drop-off from the Heat to the rest of the Eastern Conference is severe, the Lakers, Spurs and Thunder have quick company in the second and third tiers.

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This is the part of the offseason in which general managers fill out the very end of their roster. Would a name player at the very end of their career really make more sense than someone like Terrence Williams, DeAndre Liggins or Sundiata Gaines?

Leroux's 30-Team Offseason Review

The Nuggets, Lakers, Heat, 76ers and Nets were amongst the teams with great offseasons, while the Bucks, Magic, Suns, Knicks, Cavaliers and Bulls were in the bad column. Here's how all 30 teams have fared in the 2012 offseason.

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