Many people around the league have questioned the collective hearts of the Hawks. They seem to get beaten up early in the playoffs and then become downtrodden and lackadaisical. They lose their fight and bow out anything but gracefully.
With Josh Smith likely gone after the season, it was hard to imagine that this year's team would fare much better than their previous incarnations.
But this weekend's beatdown should serve as notice for the Pacers. They aren't good enough to just coast by and beat good teams. They have to bring their "A" game every night in order to have a shot at advancing.
Part of that ability to move forward as a team will come down to how they adjust going forward.
The biggest adjustment they need to make is learning how to play more efficiently in the half court.
Play to your strengths
This weekend's blowout loss in Atlanta highlighted what the Pacers are bad at. They don't do well when they are standing around on offense in the half court and launching triples and deep twos.
This is a team that is at their best when they are pushing the issue on defense and getting easy buckets as a result of turnovers.
They run the floor very well, have long arms and high motors. This is a fairly athletic team, and they are capable of really making matters difficult for their opponents.
The Pacers need to start doing more traps on defense, using their length and quickness to disrupt passing lanes and force the Hawks to pick up their dribble before they want to.
This will also serve them well in the next round should they knock off Atlanta.
That being said, teams generally can't fast break their way to playoff success; the games are too tight and the defense is even tighter.
Therefore, the Pacers are going to have to get better in the half court.
I know, this seems like an obvious point and one that every team would like to adhere to. Who wouldn't like to play better in the half court? And if it's so easy, why aren't they already doing it?
Offensive efficiency in the half court is actually a fairly easy proposition if a team is committed. And for a team like Indiana, it really boils down to patience.
The Pacers have an advantage that few teams can claim: They are big. They have a center in Roy Hibbert that is bigger than just about any center in the Eastern Conference. They have a power forward in David West that can back down any power forward and get his shot away regardless of who is guarding him.
The key for the Pacers is committing to the low-post game early and sticking with it often. The Pacers need to force feed the post and get Hibbert and West started from the beginning.
Sure, West actually was one of the few Pacers that had a good game in their loss, scoring 18 points. But Hibbert and all of the other frontcourt players played miserably.
By force-feeding the post, the Pacers will open up not only perimeter jumpers that are less contested, but they also will open up driving lanes for slashers like Lance Stephenson and Paul George.
But the true issue that needs to be resolved by a more committed post game on offense is better looks for the guards. And this comes from a bigger commitment to the post and having the patience to throw the extra pass.
George Hill is a solid three-point shooter and shouldn't have too much trouble getting a shot off against Jeff Teague. But when Teague doesn't have to cheat towards the post even a little, it allows him to use his athleticism to disrupt the jumper.
Similarly, Stephenson and George are not the best perimeter shooters in the league, but both can knock down the open jumper. However, when each of them has a defender draped all over them, they are going to struggle like everyone else.
If the Pacers can get the Hawks to commit to stopping the post from the outset of the game, it not only sucks the perimeter defenders down low, but it forces them to be in a constant state of flux. Each defender is constantly having to cover for a teammate, which allows the offense to make one or two extra passes to find the most open perimeter player.
More good news than bad
Through three playoff games, the Pacers have a lot to be happy about. They beat the Hawks easily at home in the first two games, and while they played perhaps their worst game of the season in Atlanta, they have a lot to be hopeful about.
They shot the ball about as bad as they possibly could, hitting a pathetic 22.7 and 16 percent from the field and three-point line, respectively.
They were bothered greatly by the Hawks' big lineup, with Josh Smith overpowering Paul George on several possessions and the low post getting muscled up.
The Hawks won't be able to sneak the big lineup in next game, and Frank Vogel should have the Pacers ready to make some adjustments.
This is still a team that has all the pieces to make a nice long run in these Eastern Conference playoffs.
But the key remains smart offense that begins in the post.
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