The Atlanta Hawks finally showed some life in Game 3 against the Indiana Pacers. It may have just been a boost of energy from the home crowd in a critical game, but Atlanta was finally able to execute on the defensive end and shut down Indiana’s offense.
Improved defense is the adjustment the Hawks must make if they are to come back from this deficit and defeat the Pacers. The Hawks took a step in the right direction in Game 3, but they must continue that momentum for the remainder of the series.
The difference between Game 3 and the first two games was astonishing. Atlanta put together one of the more dominant performances of the 2013 playoffs. The Hawks were up 13 at the end of the first quarter and never looked back.
In Games 1 and 2, the Hawks were shredded defensively. They gave up an average of 110 points per game and were hardly competitive. After their dismal performances on the road, some people were thinking that the Pacers just might sweep the series.
The Hawks put those talks to bed with an impressive performance in Game 3.
Game 3 was a complete 180 from the first two games of the series. The Hawks held the Pacers to 27 percent shooting from the field, including only 16 percent from three-point range. The 69 points scored by the Pacers was their lowest offensive output since 2006.
The big change for the Hawks came in an adjustment to the starting lineup. Johan Petro was inserted into the starting lineup while Kyle Korver was relegated to coming off of the bench. Although Petro only played 14 minutes and Korver still logged more playing time, sometimes a small change can make a big difference.
The seven-foot Petro gave the Hawks size against Indiana’s big and physical front line. Petro also gave Atlanta a boost on the defensive end.
The Hawks defensive prowess in Game 3 was especially effective against Indiana’s backcourt. Josh Smith and Jeff Teague effectively shut down the Pacers’ Paul George and George Hill.
George averaged 25 points per game over the first two games of the series but was held to 16 points and shot 4-of-11 from the field in Game 3.
Hill also had success against the suspect Atlanta defense in the first two games by averaging 20 points per game, but he struggled in Game 3. Teague held Hill in check with three points on 1-of-8 shooting.
If there is one aspect that the Hawks still have to improve, it's the amount of free-throw attempts they are giving up.
Through three games, the Pacers have attempted 91 free throws. Some would argue that this statistic is just a product of some favorable home-court calls, but the Pacers still attempted 28 free throws in Game 3.
If the Hawks can find a way to play physical defense without putting Indiana on the line, they will be in position to win this series.
The challenge for Atlanta will now be stringing together solid performances. Throughout much of the season, the Hawks struggled with consistency. In Game 3 we saw what the Hawks look like when they live up to their potential,
Monday’s game will give fans a better idea of how the rest of the series will transpire. Game 3 was a must-win game for the Hawks, and they came out clicking on all cylinders.
Game 4 will be just as important as Game 3 for the Hawks, but expect the Pacers to show more fight. The Pacers have not won in Atlanta since 2006 and have lost 12 straight games over that stretch, so expect them to come out focused and ready to take control of the series.
Fans cannot expect Atlanta to hold Indiana under 70 points again, but if the Hawks can maintain their defensive intensity, expect the series to be heading back to Indianapolis tied at two.