Series Recap: Pacers Overwhelm Valiant Hawks With Size
At the end of the day, Indiana was simply too big.
The obvious mismatch in size was a problem the Atlanta Hawks knew they’d have to deal with going into their first-round series with the Indiana Pacers. Looking back, it was exactly that which lost them the series.
The Pacers dominated the paint from the opening tip of Game 1 to the final buzzer of Game 6. And while there were stretches in which the Hawks played solid defense, there were longer stretches in which the Pacers played their game – pound the ball inside and either get easy baskets against a smaller team or draw fouls.
Indiana out-rebounded Atlanta by 70 in the series, which is an average of just under 12 per game. They also shot 172 free throws, never going to the line fewer than 21 times in any of the six games. As the Pacers put it, it was “bully ball,” and they certainly bullied the short-handed and undersized Hawks.
All that said, the series didn’t go nearly as one-sided as it looked on paper, or as many experts believed it would. When the Pacers went up 2-0, it appeared as though it was over. Two double-digit wins against the seemingly punchless Hawks could have sealed the deal, but the Hawks fought back with two relatively easy wins in Atlanta. All of a sudden it was a series again…until Indiana carried momentum from a Game 5 route back into Atlanta and held on for dear life as the Hawks furiously rallied in the fourth quarter of Game 6, only to fall short.
One thing Indiana did well in all four wins was dominate the start of the third quarter, which I thought really took the life out of Atlanta. Indiana had leads of eight, nine, seven and seven at halftime of their four wins. By the six-minute mark of the third quarter in all four games, the lead was stretched to 15. The sign of a good team is one that can put its foot on the gas when ahead, and Indiana did that beautifully in Games 1, 2 5 and 6.
Another big factor was David West’s resurgence in Games 5 and 6. West scored 24 and 21 points in Games 5 and 6 after averaging just over 10 through the first four games. He said after Game 4 that he needed to be more of a factor in the series, and he took it upon himself to be more aggressive at getting to the rim in Games 5 and 6. That was a big reason Indiana got over the hump.
I’ve talked a lot about the Pacers’ offense so far, but credit their defense as well. They held Atlanta to 83 and 73 points in Games 5 and 6 after four pretty good offensive games from Atlanta in Games 1-4. They did it primarily by forcing the Hawks into perimeter shots and taking away the fast break. A lot of credit goes to Indiana for the adjustments they made after the two Hawks wins in Atlanta.
Who knows how the series would have gone if Zaza Pachulia, who grabbed 28 rebounds in two games against Indiana this season, were healthy. Nevertheless, you have to consider this season a success for Atlanta when you take into account all of the injuries, expiring contracts and offseason moves. We’ll see how this year’s offseason goes, but I expect the Hawks to be busy.
Photo by Paul Abell/NBAE/Getty Images