Sure, the Atlanta Hawks looked listless in the second half of both games in their first-round series against the Indiana Pacers, but as we all know, any NBA series can change once the trailing team returns to the comforts of their home court.
Although it may seem like a monumental task after losing Game 2 113-98, there are some reasons to believe that the Atlanta Hawks can still come back and make this into a series.
1. Their Shooting Will Improve
The Atlanta Hawks have been a team that has lived and died upon their outside shooting. It has been a staple of how they are built under coach Larry Drew. Kyle Korver (pictured) is one of the league's best three-point shooters and will look forward to the confines of Phillips Arena.
The Hawks shot 49.4 percent in tonight's game against a very good Indiana defense, and they've had open looks often in this series. As the scene shifts to Atlanta for Game 3, look for the Hawks to take advantage of ball screens and to continue to shoot well from the outside to minimize the effect of Indiana's tall frontcourt.
2. Josh Smith Will Show More Consistency
He has been in foul trouble; he has been the subject of ridicule, and to add insult to injury, he became posterized on a sick dunk in Game 2, which will be the stuff of SportsCenter highlights. This is a typical postseason for one Josh Smith, and that means only one thing: he will be back and better than ever come Game 3.
Granted, he does has a lot of pressure to perform with his impending free agency coming up, but he has always shown the ability to pick his game up when least expected. He showed that, despite a sprained ankle, he was able to contribute greatly on offense while having to battle a bigger frontcourt the entire evening. He was also able to hit some open shots when defenders left him with space.
Expect a 20-point, 10-rebound game come Saturday.
3. Atlanta Will Adjust Their Defensive Strategy
The playoffs are all about strategies and adjusting them as a series goes on. And Larry Drew is great at taking the undersized talent of the Hawks and using it as a strength. Although they have gotten off to a tough start, a lot of that was due to not being able to determine the best game plan to deal with a long Pacers squad.
That said, the Hawks know they can battle size with something Indiana doesn't have: speed.
Expect Atlanta to go to more double-teaming in the post and to add the extra defender in the post come Game 3 as the scene shifts to Phillips Arena. They have been able to create turnovers, but if they want to get a victory, they will have to continue to create pressure on the Pacers, who are a solid half-court team but are quick to turn the ball over, as the Hawks have created more turnovers than the Pacers have through two games.
When a team is on the road, it is easy to feel pressure and to be unable to respond when turning over the ball. And when the Hawks force Indiana into positions that prevent passing opportunities, it will favor Atlanta.
The Hawks have to feel confident that the Pacers can't shoot over them (sans Roy Hibbert) so if they get out on the fast break by turnovers, expect them to get back into the series.
4. Jeff Teague Will Continue to Play Well
Jeff Teague has been Atlanta's leading scorer in the playoffs, and his ascent to becoming a solid point guard in the NBA is beginning. He has grown by leaps and bounds in his fourth year, and when the Hawks return home for the next two games, he will have more opportunities to put his teammates in position to score.
The Pacers have had problems containing the lightning-quick PG, and as he continues to penetrate into the paint and create scoring chances, it will allow the Hawks to keep up with Indiana offensively.
5. Better Hustle When They Are at Home
Sometimes the playoffs just come down to winning the "50-50" plays—loose rebounds and passes that are thrown off-target. So far, Indiana has out-hustled the Hawks, but with Larry Drew calling out his players for their soft play on the boards, expect the change of scenery to create a greater sense of urgency.
This Hawks team has been fighting the role and perception of underdog all season long, so this situation is no different. The bench guys, like Ivan Johnson and DeShawn Stevenson, have shown veteran grit and hustle, which is what is needed when playing defensive-minded teams.
Nine players are going to be free agents this summer, so they know the importance of playing strong this time of year, and the mental battle will be cleared after one game at Phillips Arena.