The Atlanta Hawks turned in a respectable performance in their Game 1 loss to the Indiana Pacers, but they couldn't find the scoring to match Indy's 58-point first half. Atlanta's Josh Smith had been slowed by a knee injury and now his ankle is bothering him, seen clearly as he limped up and down the court.
It's potentially devastating for the Hawks if Smith won't be close to 100 percent, as the Pacers have one of the best frontcourts in the league. On Sunday afternoon, Paul George, David West and Roy Hibbert combined for 52 points and 28 rebounds.
While Smith and Al Horford form a potent combo, Kyle Korver and Devin Harris couldn't solve Indy's D (13 points on 6-of-16 shooting). The Pacers enjoy a tremendous home-court advantage (30-11 this season, third best in the East), so if the underrated Hawks want to steal Game 2, their play must be letter perfect.
Time: Wednesday, April 24, 7:30 p.m. ET
Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, IN
Series Record: 1-0 Pacers
TV: NBA TV
Game 2 Key Storyline: Physicality
In Game 1, the Hawks actually outshot Indy (50 percent to 45) and still lost by 17 points. Why? Too many easy points.
The Pacers shot 30-of-34 from the foul line, while Atlanta was just 7-of-14. Smith and Korver missed six of their eight free throws. The Hawks desperately need to toughen up and gird themselves for a battle with Indiana if they want to compete in this series.
Coach Larry Drew found it "a little bit mind-boggling" that the Hawks didn't play with more intensity, and admitted that his team was "physically manhandled" by the Pacers (per AP, via Fox Sports). Atlanta simply cannot allow the Pacers to run a free-throw drill on them.
They need to play smart defense and avoid the bonus too early while not being afraid to knock the Pacers to the floor with hard fouls. If Indy wants to draw contact, the Hawks have to make them earn it.
Series Star So Far
Paul George Paul George Paul George. Indy's All-Star swingman posted a triple-double for the record books on Sunday.
George scored 23 points on just 3-of-13 shooting. That can happen when you go to the charity stripe 18 times and miss just once. Add that scoring to his 11 rebounds and 12 assists, and you have the lowest shooting percentage for a postseason triple-double since they added the shot clock.
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
Elias Says: Paul George set record for lowest FG pct (23.1) in playoff triple-double in shot clock era http://t.co/npB9oRYbuz2013-4-22 08:23:31
At least the good outweighed the bad. The Hawks will be keying on George in Game 2, so it will be interesting to see if he can come anywhere close to his production from Sunday. And if he can find his shooting groove, the Hawks will be doomed.
Projected Starting Lineups
Atlanta: Jeff Teague, PG; Devin Harris, SG; Kyle Korver, SF; Josh Smith, PF; Al Horford, C
Indiana: George Hill, PG; Lance Stephenson, SG; Paul George, SF; David West, PF; Roy Hibbert, C
Hawks Injury Report (via ESPN.com)
Josh Smith (right ankle), day-to-day; Al Horford (shoulder), day-to-day
Pacers injury report
George Hill (hip), day-to-day
Hawks Will Win If...
They limit second-chance opportunities.
Atlanta figured to get dominated on the glass in this series, but they must do better on the offensive boards. In Game 1, the Pacers corralled 15 offensive rebounds. Six of Hibbert's eight boards came on the offensive end, equalling the total for the entire Hawks team.
That kind of gap in second-chance points is nearly impossible to overcome. Atlanta has to put a body on every Indiana player when the jump shots go up; boxing out will be imperative for managing the Pacers' potent frontcourt.
Larry Drew is certain to make physical play a point of emphasis in pregame preparation, especially in light of his comments following Game 1. Atlanta will have to dole out the hard fouls and fight for rebounds if they don't want another earful from Drew. That kind of play may not be possible if Smith's ankle affects him significantly.
Pacers Will Win If...
They hold Jeff Teague, Harris and Korver to less than 35 points. Those three combined for 34 points in Game 1, with 21 of those supplied by Teague, who has proven to be an electric player in his fourth season.
Smith and Horford will score 30 to 40 points in nearly every game. The Pacers can live with that since West and Hibbert's quality defense will keep those Hawks relatively contained. Smith coughed up four turnovers on Sunday in part because Indy allows so few easy buckets.
But Harris and Korver can both catch fire if they get in a groove. Korver tied for second in the league in three-pointers per game (2.6) and three-point shooting (45.7 percent), but his shots weren't falling in Game 1.
Harris has struggled to stay healthy this season, missing 24 games, but at his best, he offers elite quickness for attacking the rim. If Korver hits his triples and Harris can get to the line early and often, the Pacers could be in trouble.
The Hawks are unlikely to shoot 50 percent from the field again, just as Paul George is unlikely to shoot 3-of-13 in Game 2.
That doesn't bode well for Atlanta, but their second tilt will be more tightly contested. Their coach's exhortations to play more physically will change the complexion of the series, and the action will grow increasingly more chippy.
Hawks forward Ivan Johnson weighs in at 255 pounds and treats the painted area more like a mosh pit. He can help establish a physical presence for Atlanta, and the rest of them should follow suit.
But overall, a hobbled Josh Smith gives the Hawks too big a hill to climb. While Atlanta will narrow the margin of free throws and offensive boards, they won't be able to solve the Pacers defense in Indianapolis.
Prediction: Indiana Pacers 96, Atlanta Hawks 88