Through 81 regular-season games, Indiana Pacers coach Frank Vogel found a winning strategy predicated on suffocating defense, a heavy dosage of his bruising frontcourt and enough offense to tally the third-most wins in the Eastern Conference (49).
But in their first two postseason games, the Pacers have transformed into an offensive juggernaut, pouring in 220 points while grabbing a 2-0 lead in their best-of-seven series with the Atlanta Hawks.
While they may well shift back to a more methodical group when the competition stiffens, this high-flying Pacers attack has been a beauty to behold.
Well, for everyone other than the grounded Hawks, that is.
Atlanta coach Larry Drew knew his team didn't have the towering presences to go toe-to-toe with Indiana's intimidating size. So he tried taking advantage of his versatile front line, attempting to outrun rather than out-execute Vogel's squad.
With the Pacers putting on an aerial display that would make the Blue Angels proud, though, it may be time for Drew to go back to the drawing board. This is, after all, an Indiana roster featuring a pair of former Slam Dunk Contest participants in Gerald Green and Paul George, a fact that Atlanta was reminded of midway through the second quarter (via Mike Wells of the Indianapolis Star):
Goodness, Gerald Green just put a dunk in Josh Smith's mug.— Mike Wells (@MikeWellsNBA) April 25, 2013
The Pacers draw their biggest praise from the hoops world for size and physicality, but they're a sneaky athletic bunch. Their relentless defense wouldn't cause nearly as many headaches without their ability to convert the turnovers it creates into transition opportunities in the blink of an eye.
Behind another monstrous effort from George—27 points, eight rebounds and four steals—the Pacers soared to a resounding 113-98 win in Game 2 on Wednesday night. George Hill chipped in with 22 points, while Green and Roy Hibbert each added 15.
One game after recording his first career postseason triple-double, George put together the type of efficient performance that made him the 2012-13 Most Improved Player of the Year (via Mike Wells of USA Today). He connected on 11 of his 21 field-goal attempts and did not record a single turnover in his 38-plus minutes.
But the athletic Fresno State product let his teammates fill the highlight reel on Wednesday. Before Green's facial on Josh Smith, Hibbert punished Hawks forward Ivan Johnson with a thunderous one-handed flush in the first quarter.
Getting YouTubed, a face full of the 7'2", 280-pound center and a personal foul all on the same play? Yeah, it was that kind of night for Atlanta.
Josh Smith battled foul trouble throughout the game and was limited to just 20 minutes of action. Al Horford couldn't pick up the offensive slack, finishing with 13 points on a 5-of-11 night from the field. Jeff Teague needed 16 field-goal attempts for his 16 points.
The Pacers never had the runaway quarter to completely break this game open, but maybe that would have been easier to take.
Instead the Hawks were forced to put on their best face while never being able to solve the Pacers' puzzles. Indiana won all four quarters, grabbing control of the game late in the first and never letting go.
It was the kind of 48-minute effort the Pacers put on full display in their 107-90 win in Game 1, a game where George's delicious dimes and chase-down blocks conjured up images of another (projected) season award winner: LeBron James.
Now the series shifts to Atlanta for Game 3 on Saturday (7 p.m. ET on ESPN), a place where Indiana hasn't won in its last 11 trips (via Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal Constitution).
The Hawks will undoubtedly try to play the role of aggressor once again; they cannot survive in the half court against the more disciplined Pacers.
But now that they've gotten a firsthand glimpse of what a run-and-gun Indiana squad looks like, they have a much better idea of the potential pitfalls of engaging the Pacers in a track meet.