The Indiana Pacers posted a 30-11 record at home during the regular season. They will need every shred of that home-court advantage after getting punched in the mouth by the Atlanta Hawks in Games 3 and 4.
After Hawks coach Larry Drew said his team was "physically manhandled" by the Pacers in Game 1, they really responded at home (per AP, via Fox Sports).
Indy lost control of the series down in Georgia, failing to push to Hawks to the brink and shooting just 32.7 percent from the field over the two losses. Atlanta took a page out of the Pacers' book and swarmed on defense, forcing copious missed shots from the perimeter.
Frank Vogel will need to counteract Atlanta's adjustments and get back to basics in a pivotal Game 5.
Game 5 Time: Wednesday, May 1, 8 p.m. ET
Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis
Series Record: Tied at 2-2
TV: NBA TV
Game 5 Key Storyline: Will the Hawks' D Soar in Indy?
Following a pair of lopsided losses in Indiana, Atlanta shocked the Pacers with their big lineup in Game 3. Larry Drew slid Josh Smith to the 3 and inserted Johan Petro into the starting lineup beside Al Horford.
Atlanta's beefed up starting five limited the Pacers to 69 points on an abysmal 27.2 percent shooting, as the Hawks pushed the series to 2-1. Ivan Johnson's punishing play persisted as he continued to serve as an important tone setter.
Luckily for Atlanta, Petro made it back from the birth of his child in time to throw his weight around for 22 minutes in Game 4, scoring four points with eight boards and three assists.
With Horford struggling somewhat on Monday, Devin Harris came up huge. Though he had only eight points on 3-of-10 shooting, his team-high plus-22 rating testifies to his speedy play on the defensive end.
Josh Smith had a fine game, to the tune of 29 points, 11 boards (five offensive), four assists, three steals and a block. Kyle Korver snapped out of his funk with 19 points and five three-pointers to bolster Atlanta's scoring.
Incredibly, the Hawks tied the series at two games apiece despite getting outscored by 14 points in the paint in Game 4. Most importantly, Atlanta still played physical ball, getting to the line 13 times more than the Pacers and holding them to under 40 percent from the field again.
They better pack that intensity from Games 3 and 4 in their suitcases for the trip back to Indianapolis, as the Hawks looked like a completely different team in their two double-digit losses at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Series Star So Far: Al Horford
It's tempting to give Paul George this place of pride (21.8 points, 10 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 2.5 steals and a block per game), but he's only shooting 39.3 percent.
Josh Smith is a similar all-around player enjoying an excellent series, but I have to pick Al Horford.
The man in the middle for Atlanta has posted 17.8 points (on 52.6 percent shooting), 9.3 boards and 3.3 dimes per game. He has also held onto the ball better than Smith (committing one less turnover per game) despite being constantly surrounded by Indy's hard-nosed frontcourt.
Horford has six steals and four blocks so far, and ATL will need him to add to those numbers and pester the Pacers' sputtering offense.
Projected Starting Lineups
Hawks: Jeff Teague, PG; Devin Harris, SG; Josh Smith, SF; Johan Petro, PF; Al Horford, C
Pacers: George Hill, PG; Lance Stephenson, SG; Paul George, SF; David West, PF; Roy Hibbert, C
Hawks Injury Report (per CBSSports.com)
Zaza Pachulia (Achilles), out for season; Lou Williams (knee), out for season
Pacers Injury Report
Danny Granger (knee), out for season
Hawks Will Win If...
They keep the rebounding margin close and get to the line more often than Indy.
Atlanta has improved in these two areas with each game, and the addition of Petro to the starting lineup put them over the edge.
In Game 1, Indy outrebounded the Hawks 48 to 32 and 15 to six on the offensive glass. The Pacers also shot 20 more foul shots than ATL, which is an absurd advantage. The Hawks narrowed Indiana's dominance in Game 2, rebounding better (47-41 and 15-11 offensive) and cutting the deficit in free-throw attempts down to nine.
Atlanta continued to improve at Philips Arena, taking Game 3 and rebounding about as well as Indy; then they shot 38 free throws in Game 4 to just 25 for the Pacers.
Jeff Teague and Josh Smith will need to continue attacking and drawing contact to keep Indy back on their heels.
These categories aren't flashy, but they help control the pace of the game and lead to easy points, which generally equals wins.
Pacers Will Win If...
They stop stinking up the joint on offense. After all, as Bill Russell will tell you: This game has always been, and will always be, about buckets.
Indy has shot 39.4 percent from the field in the first four games, the worst mark of any playoff team. Game 3 was the nadir, as they failed to crack the 70-point threshold and had more bricks than Habitat for Humanity.
During the regular season, Paul George, David West and George Hill played like a three-headed monster on offense, averaging more than 48 points per game between them. They've been decent in this series but inconsistent as well.
Paul George shot 3-of-13 in Game 1; West was 1-of-4 in Game 2. Hill shot 5-of-23 in Games 3 and 4. If these three can get on the same page, they have a very good chance of holding serve at home. But if they shoot 38 percent again in Game 5, they just might be heading back to Atlanta facing elimination.
The home team won every game between these two clubs during the regular season. The home team has won every game in this series as well. That trend is not about to change.
Indiana did a lot of things right after their ugly loss in Game 3—they reduced their turnovers, they scored in the paint and moved the ball better on offense—but they still came up short as Atlanta evened the series.
The Pacers will be seething after they frittered away their 2-0 lead, but they'll make up for it with renewed physicality inside and more of an attacking mentality on offense.
The only question will be whether or not they can play that well on the road and close out the series in Game 6.
This series has been closer than many expected, and the Hawks won't go quietly, but the Pacers have more depth and a better defense, which outweighs their occasional offensive dissonance.
Prediction: Pacers 95, Hawks 90