Pacers at Hawks – Game 3 Preview
With two rough games in Indiana behind them, the Hawks return home hoping familiar grounds equal a reversal of fortunes.
Game 3 is a must-win game to say the least, and the Hawks feel like they’re ready. Larry Drew says the team remains confident but hinted at Thursday’s practice that there may be some changes to the lineup and rotations on Saturday night. Those changes will hopefully come in the form of playing bigger. Through two games, the Pacers have proven that Atlanta can’t play small ball and win. Indiana, a team that averaged 94 points per game during the regular season (23rd in NBA), is averaging 110 through two playoff games. The primary reason is they’ve been able to have their way in the paint and at the free throw line. The Hawks will have to change that if they want to have a chance, and here are a few ways they can:
- Move either Ivan Johnson or Johan Petro into the starting lineup. Drew was hoping to force the Pacers to switch their lineup first, but that won’t happen after two dominating games by Indiana. The Hawks will have to move Josh Smith, a more athletic and longer defender than Kyle Korver, over to guard Paul George, who has had his way so far. If Ivan Johnson starts, he can body up David West while Al Horford can stay on Roy Hibbert. Hibbert has had a marginal impact on the series so far (31 points on 12-27 shooting), so if Drew thinks he’s been effective enough to warrant a change, then Horford can play the power forward position and guard West while Petro can guard Hibbert, matching height. Petro has shown he can be a reliable defender against seven-foot centers, holding his own against Kevin Garnett and Brook Lopez earlier this year. Whether it’s Johnson or Petro, the change would not only give the Hawks a better interior defensive presence while better containing George, but it would also help close the rebounding gap that has plagued Atlanta through the first 96 minutes. Yes, you lose a little bit of offense without Korver on the floor, but the Pacers have done a good job on him so far. Having a post-up presence such as Johnson or Petro on the offensive end would be a good way to offset that. Plus, having Korver as a weapon off the bench isn’t too shabby.
- Go under more screens. The Pacers have penetrated the lane too easily through the first two games, which has led to lots of points in the paint, foul calls and open jump shots because of double teams. A lot of that starts with George and George Hill. Going under Indiana’s high screens might bait the guards into taking more jump shots, which is what you want the Pacers to do. As I’ve said before, they aren’t a good perimeter-shooting team, so if they win by making jumpers as opposed to pounding the paint and hitting free throws, you live with that. When Atlanta’s guards try to go over screens with the bigs hedging, it creates problems because of the Pacers’ length.
- Keep your composure. Three technical fouls led to three Indiana points, and several other frustration fouls away from the basket gave the Pacers unnecessary free throw opportunities. The Hawks have to play aggressive, yes, but there’s a difference between playing physical and playing out of control. Every foul and every technical adds up. The fewer trips to the free throw line Indiana gets, the less dangerous they are. The Hawks have to make sure they play smart on the defensive end, which means tight, lock-down defense without fouling. If they foul four or fewer times per quarter, I like their chances to win.
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