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Pacers Can't Flip Switch Against Hawks In Game One

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 One, 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 One, 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 One.

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.

Pacers Show New Wrinkle With Evan Turner At Point Guard

It didn’t take long for the Indiana Pacers to add a wrinkle to their offense with Evan Turner now in the fold.

With George Hill (shoulder) sidelined this weekend, Frank Vogel used Turner at point guard against the Boston Celtics and Utah Jazz.

The Pacers don’t rely on Hill to run the point in a traditional way, but handing the ball to Turner on consecutive nights in close games down the stretch was certainly a gutsy call by Vogel.

“Turner gave us a big lift the whole game, but particularly down the stretch,” Vogel said after Indiana beat Boston 102-97 on Saturday night. “He handled some point guard duties, which he hadn’t done for us yet. We hadn’t talked about it yet. He stepped up.”

Turner hadn’t logged a minute at point guard for the Philadelphia 76ers this season, but Vogel noted that Turner had experience handling the ball at Ohio State.

“Evan is as versatile as it comes,” Paul George said. “He filled right in and did a great job of playing point guard.”

Turner had 17 points, three rebounds and two assists without a turnover on 8-for-14 shooting against the Celtics. With the Pacers struggling to pull away, Vogel let Turner bring up the ball in the fourth quarter. He was on the floor for the full 12 minutes and was the de facto point guard for close to eight minutes.

“At that time it would have been the normal spot to take him back out, but he was the hottest guy out there,” Vogel said of when he slid Turner over to the point. “We know he has great versatility, as do Lance [Stephenson] and Paul. Any of those three guys can handle, so that’s a lineup we knew we’d use at some point.”

Turner scored ten points on 5-for-8 shooting in the final frame.

“I felt fine. Coach was pretty much telling me to run along on certain things,” Turner said when asked if he was comfortable in the role.

“David West was setting screens. He’s great coaching himself. I think I got to look at the film a little bit and see what I can do when things break down, but other than that it’s just coming down and playing basketball.”

C.J. Watson started in place of Hill in both games, but it was Turner that handled the ball in the final moments. In a narrow 94-91 win over the Jazz, Turner played most of his fourth-quarter minutes (6:04) without Watson on the floor. He had four points and two rebounds without a turnover.

After the Boston game I asked Vogel whether the bigger lineup had a future when Hill is healthy.

“Probably not, but I could see us at certain times, if Evan has it going. Sometimes if a guy is hot you’ve got to keep him out there,” Vogel said. “But I don’t see us having a steady diet of playing him over George [Hill].”

Paul George, who has played alongside Hill for the last three seasons, says Turner works as the ball handler because he isn’t asked to do a lot. He’s been with the team for less than two weeks and hasn’t mastered the entire playbook.

“We weren’t doing anything out of the ordinary,” George said in-between the wins. “We ran pick-and-roll plays and Evan is a great creator and decision-maker at the ball-handing position. Whether he’s on the wing or at point guard, he’s comfortable there and we’re comfortable with him there. I think it was a great coaching change.”

Turner performed well in the new role with his new team, but admitted Saturday night that he was shocked by Vogel’s decision.

“I thought Paul was coming in for me,” he said. “He put up [one finger] and I was like OK, I’ll take a one-minute break. And then he was like ‘No, you’re running the one.’ I was like OK, cool. I guess, ‘Good job coach, there will be a little something extra in your mailbox.’”

The Eastern Conference At The Deadline

The East deals included the only two All-Stars dealt (Antawn Jamison and Danny Granger), the two best players (Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes), and the smartest player (Professor Andre Miller, PhD).

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A rusty Danny Granger may have already made the Pacers a better team. They scored more than 100 points in back-to-back games for just the second time all season and the bench has quickly become more dangerous.

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The Pacers havenít lost through eight games and once again possess the best defense in the NBA, but the uncertain future of Danny Granger, and how he will fit into such a cohesive unit, does provide reason for trepidation.

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Forget whether or not tanking is morally acceptable. Most NBA franchises are so bad at identifying young talent (and even worse at developing it) that draft position almost doesnít matter. The Pacers didnít have to lose a bunch of games to build a championship-caliber team.

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The following 30 questions are the biggest issues facing each NBA front office as the 13-14 regular season begins.

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Pacers Crumble In Game 7, Heat Cruise To NBA Finals

The Pacers committed 21 turnovers with a trip to the NBA Finals just 48 minutes away, allowing the Heat to easily advance to the championship round for the third straight year.

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Stephenson Has Become Pacers' X-Factor

The difference for the Pacers has been Lance Stephenson; they win when he plays well and lose when he doesnít. Itís been this way the throughout the playoffs where Stephenson has shown the world he has potential to be a really good player if he can become more consistent.

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Pacers Use Early, Late Runs To Even Conference Finals

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Heat Roll Offensively, Take 2-1 Lead Over Pacers

Beaten down from trying to defend LeBron James, Paul George had just 13 points on 10 shots as the Heat clicked offensively on Sunday night.

Pacers Show Poise, Earn Split In Miami

After letting Game 1 slip away, Roy Hibbert dominated and the Pacers earned a much-needed split in Miami as the Eastern Conference Finals shift to Indiana.

Pacers Give Away Game 1, LeBron Saves Heat

The Pacers gave the Heat all they could handle, but questionable decisions cost them in overtime as Miami won a buzzer-beater by LeBron James.

2013 NBA Amnesty Primer

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