Pacers at Hawks – Game 6 Preview
Well Hawks fans, here we are. Game 6 with the Hawks facing elimination and needing one more Indiana loss at Philips Arena to save their season.
The Hawks have played well in the two games at home in this series so far, but this game will have a different feel. Will the Pacers be able to show their killer instinct? Will the Hawks be able to live up to the pressure in an elimination game? All of those questions will be answered Friday night.
The Pacers finally solved the Hawks’ big lineup Wednesday, scoring 106 points on 53 percent shooting while getting to the free throw line 35 times. Playing at home was a big part of the drastic change in play, but it also appears Indiana has found a formula: pound the ball inside, get the Hawks in foul trouble and exploit the mismatches that result. In Game 5, the Pacers got both Josh Smith and Ivan Johnson in trouble early, forcing Larry Drew to play Al Horford and Johan Petro extended minutes. Paul George had a quiet first half until Smith left the game, then started to rack up the points once Smith was forced to the bench.
Here are my keys to Game 6:
– Stay out of foul trouble. The Hawks have racked up a preposterous 126 fouls through the first five games. That’s simply unacceptable if you want to win in the playoffs. Atlanta has a good thing going with the big lineup on the floor, as evidence by Games 3 and 4, and the sharp first quarter in Game 5. They need to be able to play to Drew’s rotation without it being interrupted by foul trouble. If they can limit themselves to four or fewer fouls per quarter, not only do the starters stay on the floor, but they keep the Pacers off the free throw line.
– Good shot selection. When the Pacers have started to make runs in this series, the Hawks have, at times, pressed a bit, forcing up shots in traffic or settling for long jumpers. Obviously this team is best when they move the ball and everybody is touching it. They need to make sure they stay within the offense even when the Pacers start to make a few shots. In the series, particularly in the losses, the shot quality has gotten away from them when things start to go downhill.
– Keep your composure. I wrote about this after Game 2 as well, and it happened again in Game 5. Atlanta racked up technicals and silly fouls when the game started to get away from them, which is something you can’t do if you want to win. With Indiana ready to close things out Friday, they will have their share of runs. The Hawks will need to stay composed, not worry about the refs and play their game. If they do that, this game should go the way Games 3 and 4 did.
A final warning to Hawks fans – Do NOT expect Friday’s game to go as smoothly as Games 3 and 4. Indiana will no doubt come out energized and aggressive knowing they can close things out in our building. The Hawks are going to have to respond to that energy and match it. This will be a very close basketball game, and I think it will come down to execution in the fourth quarter. Hopefully Atlanta keeps its composure with their backs against the wall.
Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE/Getty Images