Complete Guide to Indiana's Postseason
With the regular season ending last night, the moment Pacer fans have been waiting for all season is finally here.
The NBA Playoffs.
It's a shot at redemption for Indiana, who fell to the Miami Heat in six games last year. Hopes are high for the Pacers, and they are well deserved. Indiana has been one of the dominant teams in the Eastern Conference all season long and are primed for a deep playoff run.
A first round matchup with the Atlanta Hawks awaits Indiana in the first round. The animosity between the two will only ramp up the intensity to a level we rarely see in the playoffs.
Ahead we not only have a synopsis for that series, but an outlook of the entire postseason for the Indiana Pacers.
Here is your guide to the Pacers' 2013 postseason.
How They Got Here
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Indiana finished the season as the third seed in the Eastern Conference with a record of 49-32.
How they got to that point can be summed up in one word.
Indiana played great defense all year, which allowed them to wear teams down and win games down the stretch. Their offense struggled at times, but one thing the Pacers always brought was their defensive intensity.
From the start of the season until the end, the Pacers were missing perhaps their best player. Danny Granger basically missed the entire season after undergoing knee surgery prior to the year. He came back for five ineffective games off the bench before undergoing another knee procedure, effectively ending his year.
In his absence, the Pacers still played well. Paul George has stepped up to give the Pacers a versatile scorer similar to Granger, and David West has contributed on both ends of the court.
After a huge offseason contract and rocky start to the season, Roy Hibbert righted the ship and played fairly well over the second half of the season. The Pacers also got good production out of Lance Stephenson and George Hill. Both were first-year starters for the team and contributed to Indiana's winning ways.
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Despite winning for much of the year, the Pacers are experiencing a recent slump which is of concern headed into the playoffs.
Indiana lost their last three games and their last five out of six. They may very well have been relegated to the fourth seed, had their game against Boston not been cancelled (As we're on this topic, I'd like to send my thoughts and prayers to the victims of the Boston tragedy).
The Pacers finished a half game ahead of the Nets, but for a team that was once in contention for the top spot, there was a realistic possibility of finishing fourth.
While they did rest certain players down the stretch, Indiana still struggled when they were at full strength. To make things worse, after narrowly edging out the Clippers, they lost to three playoff-bound teams. That's not a good sign, as they'll see similar-caliber teams starting now.
Teams want to be peaking at this point in the season, and unfortunately for the Pacers, their momentum is headed in the wrong direction.
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Paul George is the Pacers' best player, but another George is their most important player.
George Hill holds the key to Indiana's chance, because, well... he is the orchestrator of the offense.
The offense, one that has been stagnant at points during the year, runs through Hill. He is their primary ball-handler and has to be the one setting up his teammates with open looks.
He hasn't done a great job of it, and it's part of the reason the Pacers rank 27th in assists per game. The stat itself is only important because it is indicative of how well a team shares the ball. Not only that, it also shows relatively how well a player, or team, gets good looks at the basket.
Hill is only averaging 4.7 assists per game, which is very low for a primary point guard. To put that in perspective, Indiana's small forward is averaging 4.1 assists per game—in Hill's defense, that is high for a No. 3.
Moving forward, Hill will face tough defenses that will lock onto him and his opponents more fiercely than they did during the regular season. Decent looks at the basket will be considered good ones when the playoffs begin, so George must set his teammates for semi-easy baskets.
Luckily, he won't be facing the elite points guards that the Western Conference features, which greatly benefits Hill and the Pacers.
Hill, however, is a solid defender and has the length to guard opposing No. 2 guards. He can help out on Dwayne Wade and J.R. Smith, should they match up.
More importantly will be his playmaking ability. He can get to the rim, which will be essential against Chicago and New York. Not only will it lead to easy baskets and easy assists, but it will get foul-prone players like Tyson Chandler in foul trouble, opening opportunities for Indiana's big men.
Hill is the X-Factor in these playoffs for a team that needs offensive efficiency.
Beyond the First Round
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If the Pacers get past the Hawks, it's either a matchup with the New York Knicks or the Boston Celtics.
It's tough to predict who will win that series, and, again, you can see a detailed breakdown of each matchup here.
Against either one, the Pacers will have a tough go-round. The Knicks are one of the hottest teams heading into the playoffs, but the Celtics have the veteran savvy many other teams lack.
Out of the two, the better matchup for the Pacers would be the Knicks. I say this because the Pacers are a great defensive team who can lock down a Knicks team who relies on the three-ball too much. If New York struggles to sink their threes, they won't stand a chance.
Boston is a very similar team to Indiana, which is why the Pacers won't want to face them. Boston typically plays in very tightly contested games that come down to the wire. Because of this, there are only a few plays that separate them between victory and defeat.
For a Pacers team that struggles to execute on offense at times, this would be a death sentence. Boston has struggled defensively at times during the season, but if you don't expect them to play well on the defensive end of the court once the playoffs begin, you are out of your mind.
Doc Rivers will have them ready to play their best basketball on both ends of the court, so don't be surprised if they upset the Knicks in the first round.
If the Knicks do win, the Pacers will have their hands full with Carmelo Anthony. Anthony is coming off his first scoring title and has been on a tear of late, averaging nearly 37 points per game in the month of April. If he continue his hot play, the Pacers may not be able to get past the Knicks.
In the end, I give the Pacers a 50-50 shot to get past either of these teams. Even though the Knicks can be shut down, Carmelo Anthony gives them a chance to win any series. The same can be said for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.
Either way, both should be great and exciting series.
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Although I just said it was 50-50, I still expect the Pacers to get to the Eastern Conference Finals.
I don't expect them to win, though.
They will play Miami tough, and drive them to six or seven games, but they won't overcome the defending champs.
LeBron is on another level, and with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, the Pacers don't have enough talent to match up with Miami.
Fans will point to the advantage they have on the inside, but the addition of Chris "Birdman" Andersen helps the Heat tremendously. Plus, with Shane Battier and Ray Allen in the mix, the Pacers will struggle against Miami's second unit.
Paul George and Lance Stephenson can guard LeBron and Wade, but they may not be able to score on them. Both are great defenders and have years more experience than the Pacers duo. Plus, with the energy George and Stephenson exert on the defensive end, they'll have nothing left in the tank offensively.
In a seven-game series, I don't think the Pacers have enough to get by this team. They may steal a game here or there, but a focused Miami team is by far the best team in the league.