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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.

Teague-Williams

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.

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

The Boston Celtics mercifully closed the books on their 2013-14 season on Wednesday night with a listless 118-102 loss to the playoff-bound Washington Wizards. At one point in the first half -- with Rajon Rondo, Jared Sullinger, Kris Humphries and Jerryd Bayless sitting out -- Brad Stevens sent out Chris Babb, Avery Bradley, Chris Johnson, Brandon Bass and Joel Anthony.

The loss dropped the Celtics to 25-57, their lowest win total since the 2006-07 season, when they scratched together just 24 victories. We all know they flipped the script just one year later, winning it all after acquiring Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett in offseason trades, but such a drastic turnaround won’t happen this time around.

“I think the Fourth of July, we’ll have some fireworks,” Ainge said when asked if this offseason would be an eventful one. “I don’t know; we’re hopeful. I have some ideas and some plans that I’d like to do but there’s just no guarantee that we can do it. We need to find good trading partners. We always are trying to make fireworks every summer. We try to do something that’s unique and special and we will definitely try this summer.”

The work begins immediately for Ainge, who has already been preparing for June’s NBA Draft. The Celtics will have about $15 million in salary coming off the books heading into the offseason, but the most efficient way for them to add long-term talent will be using their multiple draft picks.

Boston has the highest chance at landing the fifth pick in next month’s lottery and also has Brooklyn’s first-rounder at their disposal in a draft that has lost some of it’s luster, thanks in part to executives like Ainge downplaying the class publicly. On Wednesday night, Ainge left open the possibility of either dealing for more picks or even trading some of their current ones away.

“I could see that possibly happening, acquiring more assets,” Ainge said. “I could see giving up our assets, our young assets and some draft picks for players as well and everywhere in between.”

Ainge will have the contract of Brandon Bass ($6.95 million) to use as a trade sweetener because it expires after next season. Rajon Rondo ($13 million in 2014-15) is Boston’s only other expiring contract of note and I remain of the belief that Ainge will hang onto the mercurial point guard rather than trade him. It’s telling that Rondo has been mentioned in rumors for several seasons, yet never been moved.

In perhaps another veiled attempt to increase Rondo’s value heading into this summer, Ainge predicted big things for the 28-year-old next season.

“I think that Rajon will have the best year of his career next year. I think he’s sort of in a phase of his life where he’s matured, he’s just smarter, and the game has slowed for him,” he said.

“I think he’ll be really healthy and fresher with a summer of strength [work]. You sort of bypass the mental anguish from him coming back from the knee surgery and the ACL and that’s been sort of the pattern of guys in the past. The first few, 30, 20 games whatever are an adjustment period so I’m confident he’ll have the best year of his career.”

Rondo played in a career-low 30 games this season after tearing his ACL last January. He was sidelined by shin and hamstring injuries in the season’s final week and didn’t play in back-to-back situations upon his initial return.

Whether it was his ongoing recovery, or the absence of longtime teammates Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, Rondo had the lowest TS% (46.1) of his career and a 44.0 eFG%, the lowest mark since his rookie season. He inched closer to 30% as a three-point shooter (28.9%), but was just a 40.3% shooter overall.

Deciding Rondo’s future has to be the first step on Ainge’s checklist because it will shape how the organization attacks both the draft and free agency.

“Listen, there’s no one person that’s more important than the whole organization,” Ainge said when asked if he would hasten the team’s rebuilding project with Rondo only under contract for another year. “We need to be good because we all want to be good. I want my coach to stay, I want Jeff Green to want to be here, I want free agents that are out there looking at us play to want to play here. I want fans to want to come to the game, everybody wants to win, but not just for one player, not just for one person. We all want to win and that’s what we are trying to accomplish.”

The Celtics began this season just a few months removed from the end of the Pierce-Garnett-Doc Rivers era, and the haze from the emotional departures never fully cleared. They were without a true leader or superstar in the first half of the season with Rondo sidelined and featured a disjointed roster.

There were flashes from Vitor Faverani, Kelly Olynyk and Pressey, but Stevens’ infamous postgame “#EveryGameIsAnAdventure” back in December proved to be a mantra for the entire season.

“It was a long season, I guess not that long, but it was a tough, tough year and I saw a lot of positive things from individuals,” Ainge reflected. “I thought our team gave good effort most nights, I think consistency was our biggest challenge and I don’t think the team was a great fit, great mix, but individually I think what I saw in almost every player. I just feel like we didn’t have the size inside to protect the rim, I thought that was a big factor that cost us a lot of games and we didn’t finish a lot of games down the stretch.”

After trading Pierce, Garnett and Jason Terry to the Nets, Ainge was left with a disorganized roster and future flexibility. Not doing much after the Brooklyn trade made it seem as though Ainge had been looking past this season all along, but he wouldn’t admit as much. Even if it sounded very much like that was the case.

“I think that we started the season very concerned with the personnel,” Ainge said. “I thought Vitor gave us some size at times; his injury hurt us some there. He was a rookie and playing inconsistent, but showing some signs of being a presence inside. I think all the way up to the trade deadline we looked at opportunities to make our team better, but we wouldn’t sacrifice draft picks to make us better for just this year, but we looked for opportunities to make out team better in the long-term.”

Assuming Rondo remains, the core of this team will likely also contain Jared Sullinger, Olynyk and whomever the Celtics take with their top pick two months from now. The Kevin Love rumors will be persistent and Sullinger (as well as the high pick) would undoubtedly have to be part of any deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves, but I’ve never been a believer in either the likelihood of such a deal or just how much better the Celtics would be with a Rondo-Love tandem.

Whether he remains in Boston or is the centerpiece of a trade, Sullinger has a lot of room to grow. In just his second season, with major back surgery coming in between the two, Sullinger averaged 13.3 points and 8.1 rebounds in fewer than 28 minutes per game.

“I think that Jared is still very young and I don’t think he understands, yet, how good he is,” Ainge said. “He’s heard it. He’s heard it from a lot of people: his father, from his agent to his coaches how good he can be, but until he believes how good he can be and really puts in the time, and I really do believe that Jared will this summer and is going to be in better shape next year.”

Regardless of what it looks like in six months, Brad Stevens will be the one coaching the roster Ainge puts together. Stevens gave himself an “incomplete” for the season, but in reality he did about as well he could have with the hand he was dealt.

In six years at Butler, Stevens won 77.2% of his games and was on the losing end just 49 times. The Celtics lost their 49th game on March 28, and then proceeded to lose eight more times.

“Brad did a great job this year. He’s a special person and a great coach and the players see it,” Ainge said. “The players see his work ethic, they see his integrity and they see his intelligence, so I think he’s earned the respect of the team in a really difficult situation this year and I know he’s going to get better. He’ll be better next year and he’ll be better the next year. He’s a sponge, and he’s very intelligent with a great work ethic and I couldn’t be happier.”

The two biggest remaining question marks for the Celtics are the futures of Jeff Green and Avery Bradley. Green is due $9.2 million in each of the next two seasons, with 2015-16 coming as a player option, while Bradley is a restricted free agent this summer.

Bradley hasn’t shown that he can remain on the floor and his offense has yet to progress significantly. There are two schools of thought on what that means for the Celtics -- he’s either easy to let go or valuable on a discounted deal given his lowered value.

Green was forced into the role of a No. 1 option, something he’s not, often this season. His contract isn’t as bad as it once looked, which gives Ainge multiple options -- keep him and move him into a more customary and effective supportive role, or move him for future assets.

“[Green] became more a focal point of the offense and he had his ups and downs with that, but I think his game is complete and I think Jeff is improving as a player,” Ainge said. “I think he still has a lot of growth still left in his game and I think he’s going to have a better year next year than he had this year.”

Without a Garnett and Allen out there to acquire, Ainge has his work cut out for him. If he thought this season was long, wait until the offseason begins.

Pacers Show New Wrinkle With Evan Turner At Point Guard

The Pacers donít rely on George Hill to run the point in a traditional way, but handing the ball to Evan Turner on consecutive nights in close games down the stretch was certainly a gutsy call by Frank Vogel.

A Year After Back Surgery, Jared Sullinger Isnít Yet Satisfied

A little more than a year since going under the knife, Jared Sullinger is headed to All-Star weekend for the Rising Stars Challenge in New Orleans. He talks to RealGM about how he remained strong during rehab and where he sees his career going.

The Case For Michael Carter-Williams As Fringe All-Star

Michael Carter-Williams should at the very least be considered for a reserve spot in a conference that really lacks a dominant lead guard. Brett Brown and the 76ers are very high on MCW, but hadn't really thought about the strength of his candidacy when asked.

Hansbrough Brings Experience, Toughness To Raptors

Tyler Hansbrough is far from an extrovert, but his experiences in Indiana are something he can pass along to teammates in Toronto. Like the Pacers, the Raptors are looking to transform into a contender through smart drafting and shrewd moves.

Pistons Trying To Mature On Road

Consistency has been a big issue for the Pistons. Aside from a four-game winning streak in early December, which preceded a three-game losing streak, they have had trouble following up strong efforts with another one. They are 13-9 against the East and 1-10 against the West.

On Danny Granger's Return

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.

Clippers Arenít Letting Injuries Hurt Them

The Clippers have avoided a catastrophic injury, but have had their continuity stunted by nagging injuries to a handful of players. Matt Barnes, J.J. Redick, Maalik Wayns and Reggie Bullock have all been sidelined with substantial issues.

Grangerís Uncertain Status Is Only Stain On Indianaís NBA-Best Start

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.

Gerald Wallace Still Learning To Accept New Role With Celtics

Rajon Rondo is the unquestioned leader of the Celtics, but Gerald Wallace will have to take on somewhat of a mentoring role as well. Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce helped keep the mercurial point guard in check when necessary and Brad Stevens will turn just 37 in late October.

Notes From 2013 NBA Draft Media Day

Victor Oladipo was the media darling on Wednesday, while Nerlens Noel, Alex Len and C.J. McCollum also impressed as they held court the day before they enter the NBA.

The End Of A Celtics' Era Regardless

A page needs to be turned and the Clippers are doing Danny Ainge and the Celtics a favor by making it impossible not to flip it and jumpstart the rebuilding process.

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.

Pacers Respond, Force Game 7 In Miami

Roy Hibbert and Paul George stepped up for the Pacers, who forced a Game 7 back in Miami, while LeBron James received little support from his teammates.

Pacers Go Cold In Third, Heat Take Pivotal Game 5

Paul George was more assertive offensively, but LeBron James and the Heat owned the third quarter as they pulled away and took Game 5.

Pacers Use Early, Late Runs To Even Conference Finals

The Pacers dominated the Heat on the glass and in the paint to tie the Eastern Conference Finals at two games apiece heading back to Miami.

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.

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