Hawks Shift Focus to Executing In Game 5

Monday, April 28, 2014
By Robby Kalland

Indiana Pacers v Atlanta Hawks - Game Three

With the Pacers winning Game 4 and evening the series at 2 games apiece, the focus shifts to the all important Game 5 in Indiana between them and the Hawks. The winner of Game 5 in first round series’ that are tied at 2-2 goes on to win the series 91.3% of the time (42-4 all time; 24-1 higher seed; 18-3 lower seed).

The Hawks maintain that they are a confident group, and have reason to be after taking Game 1 of the series in Indiana with relative ease. The Pacers picked up their intensity in Game 2 — more specifically in the second half of Game 2 — and followed their tenacious defense to a big win. The focal point for the Hawks, and really the difference in their two wins and losses, is on their offensive execution.

After Saturday’s game, in which Atlanta was held to 40 second half points, the team pointed to their second half execution, or lack thereof, as the biggest reason for them losing the fourth quarter lead.

“Our execution wasn’t where it needed to be, and we’ll all work on that and look to improve as we execute down the stretch,” Coach Bud said. “Defensively, there are a lot of positives. Both teams hit some tough shots and made some big plays. We just need to get more efficient offensively and get better execution offensively. If we can keep competing like we competed tonight, that’s what we’re looking for.”

“We shot like 35% for the game,” Kyle Korver said. “We’ve got to shoot a little better than that, probably. Also, I don’t think we converted on a lot of the fast-breaks that we had. If we had done that, it would’ve been a little different.”

Getting that execution starts with ball movement — the hallmark of the Hawks all season — as they have to get the Pacers defense to rotate to create driving lanes and open shots. Jeff Teague has been the catalyst for that ball movement all season, and has been terrific thus far in the series creating 17.3 points per game off of his 6.5 assists per game — 4th among all players in the playoffs per NBA SportVU Stats.

Where the Hawks need to improve for Game 5 is in the team’s collective ball movement. The Hawks were second in the league in assists per game during the regular season (24.9), but during this series are averaging just 17.5 assists per game. Atlanta’s shooting struggles have contributed to their lower assist totals — fewer made shots will naturally mean fewer assists — and the Pacers are forcing the Hawks to make plays off the dribble, but even still, the Hawks offense has appeared stagnant in the second halves of their two losses.

During the regular season, five Hawks players averaged 2.9 assists or more, and six had 0.7 secondary assists — passes leading to assists — or higher. Through four games this series, only two players are above those thresholds respectively — Teague and Shelvin Mack in assists and Korver and Pero Antic in secondary assists. Those numbers, particularly the secondary assists, shows that at times the Hawks are struggling to string together multiple passes to lead to a score, something they prided themselves on doing in the regular season.

The final minutes of last night’s game was emblematic of the Hawks struggles in their two losses against the Pacers’ defense, as they were pressured into turnovers and contested shots. The Hawks have to get back to playing with the pace and intensity they showed in Games 1 and 3, where, led by Teague, they pushed the ball in transition and semi-transition to collapse the Pacers defense and create open looks. In those two games, even when they struggled to make shots, they were able to create open looks off of penetration and ball movement.

Even with the offense’s sporadic nature this series, the defensive presence has been tremendous all series — maybe with the exception of the second half of Game 2. As noted in Budenholzer’s quote above, the Hawks were pleased with the defensive effort throughout the game last night, and particularly in the final minutes as they gave themselves opportunities to come back. The Pacers’ three biggest shots were all difficult shots – Paul George‘s fading three, David West‘s three, and George Hill‘s running, contested scoop layup. The Pacers have been forced to make difficult shots, which at times they have done, but the Hawks have done well to avoid giving Indiana easy shots and dunks that boost their confidence.

Game 5 is crucial for each team, and the deciding factor will likely be which team can execute offensively. For the Hawks, this means moving the Pacers in the half court with pace and ball movement and not allowing the Pacers to dictate the flow and pace. While Atlanta wants to improve on their execution, they are moving on from the Game 4 loss and focusing on the task at hand.

“There is no time or energy or thoughts of what could have been,” Coach Bud said. “We just have to move on to the next game.”

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Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty Images

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