I was about ready to give up on this Pacer team. They trailed at halftime, they generally looked like the same team that had completely fallen apart over the last month.* I was at the end of my rope and seriously considering giving up on watching the rest of this round of the playoffs, with the thought being there wouldn’t be a second round to worry about. I kept with the game, though, because the Hawks were only up four at half, and the Pacers had made a bit of a run.
*With the exception of Luis Scola. Rediscovering his jump shot in a big way is the only thing that kept the team in the game in the first half.
In the span of about two minutes from the start of the third quarter, things really felt like November all over again. I have no idea what Frank Vogel or the team said in the locker room, but something finally clicked. The defense looked like what this team claimed to be starting last year, which led to easy baskets. And when the Pacers did have to set up an offense, the ball moved, people made cuts, and it just looked like extremely good, solid, fundamental basketball.
Long story short, the second half is what I expected this Pacer team to look like in the playoffs, and if they had played like that the whole game, it probably would have been a fifty point win. If they had generally played like that since the All Star Break, they would have had the top seed wrapped up back in, what, March? Maybe even February? I don’t want to get too bogged down on the frustration, though. The team is not in a bad place right now, and if they’ve rediscovered themselves the same way Scola did, all will be forgiven.
Of course, not all of this on the Pacers. Over the last two and a half games against Atlanta, the Pacers defense was not good. There’s no two ways about that. But you have to give the Hawks credit: they took advantage of all those looks. I haven’t looked at the numbers, but it sure felt like they shot at least 75% against the Pacers. You wouldn’t expect a team to shoot as well in warm ups as the Hawks had been shooting against the Pacers. Water finally found its level in the second half last night, though. Of course, the Pacers forced the Hawks to take worse and more contested shots, but even the open looks stopped falling for them. The whistles evened out, though as Conrad Brunner pointed out on Twitter, the whistles tend to break for the more aggressive team, and that was certainly the Pacers in the second half.
It should also be pointed out that this happened without David West and Lance Stephenson having particularly good games. West again got into foul trouble, while Lance was just generally ineffective. Those are things that I don’t foresee becoming normal. I didn’t like Lance’s body language when he came out of the game, but I’ll chalk it up to frustration more than pouting until I see reason to believe otherwise. Roy Hibbert also didn’t have a great game, but unlike Mike & Mike this morning, I really don’t have a problem with that. I don’t expect much out of Roy this series, and that’s not a knock on him.* It’s purely a match up thing. The Hawks are almost purely an outside team, relying heavily on stretch bigs to open up the inside for a slashing Jeff Teague for all their inside offense. Having bigs on the outside, at least in the pros, forces Big Roy to go play defense on the perimeter, which is plainly not his skillset, nor should anybody really want it to be. Pulling him away from the basket makes it difficult, if not impossible, for him to defend the rim, which is where his strength is. It is also going to really cut down on his rebounding, which was admittedly already floundering. If you had Roy around the basket, you risk illegal defense calls and wide open looks from bigs who can shoot. All in all, this whole series is just a lose-lose for Hibbert. Basically, as long as they’re playing the Hawks, I’m going to take whatever I can get out of Roy as a plus and just move on. When he gets to match up against Nene and Gortat,** I’ll worry about it a little more.
*There are plenty of reasons to get on Roy for his play as of late, and people certainly have.
**Which, on that note, what about those Wizards! Maybe the Pacers won’t have such a rough path to the conference finals after all, according to all the pundits.
If the Pacers really did find the mythical playoff switch we’ve all heard so much about, this series is as good as over. If they play like that, Atlanta just doesn’t have the horses to keep up, no matter where they play. I would like to think that the road might be a great place for the team to solidify that great half. No stress of managing friends and family at home, you don’t have to get the local media crush on top of the national media duties. Hell, I’m sure even their neighbors or anybody they run into anywhere in the city has been giving them the business for how they’ve been playing lately. Taking a few days in Atlanta to chill in the hotel and whatnot might be the perfect incubator to pull this team together again.
I would love to believe that. However, as nice as that sounds, I’ve seen this team on the road lately. It’s not been pretty. The fans might be happy about last night, but I don’t know if anybody will be truly back on the bandwagon until they see this team do it on the road. What better chance than Thursday? And, hey, while you’re at it, you might as well win on Saturday, too.
And then if you defend home court again, you win the series 4-1. You want all the question marks to go away? That would be an awfully good start.