Although the Indiana Pacers handled the Atlanta Hawks with relative ease in Game 1, the series is far from over. Atlanta possesses a high-powered offense and is more than capable of overcoming this early deficit.
There are certain matchups the Hawks have to take advantage of if they are to come back and win this series.
The following is a position-by-position breakdown of the series.
Point Guard: Jeff Teague vs. George Hill
Because the pace of the game will be crucial, the backcourt will be key in this series for both teams.
If the Hawks can push the tempo and get the Pacers playing fast, they will have a significant advantage. If, however, the flow of the game is more controlled and the offenses are relegated to running more half-court sets, Indiana has the advantage.
For the Hawks, Jeff Teague is in charge of getting the offense started. He had success against the Pacers during the regular season. Teague averaged 16 points and 5.2 assists per game against Indiana this season.
The Hawks are at their best when Teague can penetrate off the dribble. If he gets into the paint, he can either score at the basket or force one of Indiana’s big men to come off Horford. This would create more scoring opportunities around the basket and increase Atlanta’s free-throw attempts—a statistic they lagged behind in on Sunday.
For the Pacers, their floor general is George Hill. Hill's skill set is very similar to Teague's . Both guards have the ability to score. With both averaging over 45 percent shooting from the floor, they are very efficient shooters.
Hill averaged 14.2 points, 4.7 assists and 3.7 rebounds per game.
Both guards played well in Game 1, but if the Hawks are going to prevail in this series, they need Teague to play better on the defensive end.
Shooting Guard: Devin Harris vs. Lance Stephenson
If the Hawks are going to outperform the Pacers' guard play, they are going to need production from Devin Harris. The oft-injured veteran only played in one game against the Pacers this season, and his minutes were limited.
Over a seven-game series, conserving minutes is critical. Teague cannot carry the point guard duties by himself, and when he is on the bench, Harris has to step up and assure there is not a drop-off.
Harris is going to have to score more than the eight points he registered in Game 1 if the Hawks are going push the Pacers.
Although Stephenson is averaging less than 10 points per game for the season, his offensive production has been up as the season has winded down. He is averaging 13.2 points per game since March 27, and he continued his strong offensive output with 13 points and four assists in Game 1.
Stephenson is also a force on defense. He held Harris to just eight points, recorded three steals and had five rebounds.
Small Forward: Kyle Korver vs. Paul George
Although Korver is the starter for Atlanta, the 3-spot is a bit of a rotating door for the Hawks. When Korver is hitting shots, he is a tremendous asset for the Hawks offense, but if he is off, he is a liability on defense and a target for opposing offenses.
In Game 1, DeShawn Stevenson and Josh Smith both had heavy minutes playing small forward. No matter who is playing the position, stopping Paul George is no easy task.
In Game 1, he struggled from the field (3-of-13), but he found ways to manufacture points. George ended up with a triple-double: 23 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists. He registered most of his points at the charity stripe, where he shot 17-of-18 for the game.
Power Forward: Josh Smith vs. David West
Smith and Ivan Johnson rotate playing power forward depending on what rotation Larry Drew wants to use.
Smith had a decent game in Game 1. He had 15 points, eight rebounds and five assists, but he also had a plus/minus rating of minus-21 and shot under 50 percent for the game.
Along with the entire team, Smith has to make a more conscious effort to get to the free-throw line. He was 0-of-2 from the line for the game.
Johnson was one of the few bright spots for the Hawks in Game 1. He scored 10 points and had five rebounds. The most significant statistic was that in 23 minutes of playing time, his plus/minus was only minus-two.
If the Hawks can get similar production from Johnson in the remaining games of the series, he will provide a much needed boost to the frontcourt.
David West had a workman-like effort. He did not do anything spectacular, but his production was consistent and he did what the Pacers needed him to do for them to win the game.
West recorded 13 points and nine rebounds in Game 1, and if the frontcourt as whole continues to be a force for Indiana, the Hawks will have a tough time winning the series.
Center: Al Horford vs. Roy Hibbert
The critical matchup will be between Al Horford and the Pacers frontcourt. Between Roy Hibbert and David West, Indiana has bodies down low to make life difficult for Horford.
The Hawks have quality scorers on the perimeter like Josh Smith and Jeff Teague, but Horford is the engine who makes the offense run.
Indiana's size hurts Horford's productivity. He averages three less rebounds per game against the Pacers than his season average, and he also struggles on defense. David West averages four more points per game against Atlanta compared to his season average.
Most teams have one big guy who Horford would have to account for. Indiana, however, has tremendous depth in the frontcourt. Look for that depth to wear down Horford as the series progresses.
Horford has the ability to lead Hibbert away from the basket and make it easier for other players to score around the rim.
Hibbert was not at his best in Game 1 (he only shot 41 percent from the field), but he still has a tremendous presence in the paint. Hibbert recorded eight rebounds, six of them being offensive, and two blocks (not to mention numerous shots he influenced by simply being in the vicinity).
The winner of the Horford-Hibbert matchup will win the series.
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