Paul George and the Indiana Pacers currently have a 1-0 lead against the New York Knicks in the Eastern Conference semi-finals.
The road to the NBA Finals has been anything but easy for the young Pacers. The series with Atlanta was no cakewalk in spite of the Hawks missing two key players, Lou Williams and Zaza Pachulia.
On the other hand, expect the series with the Knicks to be a grudge match of two franchises who are meeting each other in the playoffs for the first time since 2000.
At this point in time, Indiana could use a reality check to help it go deeper into the postseason.
Has Roy Hibbert's value become more evident as the playoffs wear on?
Is Paul George the next playoff savior of the Indiana Pacers?
These, and other takeaways from their current playoff performance, are going to be classified as mere fiction or absolute fact.
Third-year man Lance Stephenson has been a terror on the boards at the 2 spot for the Pacers.
The Indiana Pacers showed their might on the glass and defensive end during the regular season.
In its five playoff wins, Indiana out-rebounded the opposition by an average of 15.4.
The Pacers won the first two games against the Hawks even though they allowed their opponents to shoot an average of 50 percent from the field.
This is definitely something Coach Frank Vogel should not be satisfied with.
Once his team tightened the screws on defense in the last two games of the Atlanta series, the outcome was never in doubt. The Hawks shot just 33.3 percent in Games 5 and 6 (at one point they shot just 1-of-15 from the field in the second quarter of Game 6), thanks to a more focused team defensive effort by the Pacers.
Indiana also asserted its mastery in these two areas against the New York Knicks in Game 1 of their series. Indiana won the battle on the boards, 44-30, while holding New York to just 43.2 percent shooting from the floor.
For the Pacers to succeed in the playoffs, this trend has to continue.
D.J. Augustin's performance in Game 1 against the Knicks was a much-needed breath of fresh air for the Pacers.
When one thinks of bench production, the Indiana Pacers are not the first thing that comes to mind.
Interesting note: In the Pacers' five postseason victories in 2013, the bench got outscored four times by the other team's shock troopers.
This tells us two things.
First, the Pacers rely very heavily on their starters for scoring. Lately, veteran warrior David West has been carrying the bulk of the load.
Second, this doesn't mean Indiana should let this trend carry on. Any starter can have an off-night (Paul George's four-point production in Game 6 against the Hawks, for example), so somebody from the bench has to pick up the slack.
D.J. Augustin did this beautifully in Game 1 against the Knicks, scoring 16 points on 4-of-5 shooting from three-point distance.
As of late, nobody on Indiana's bench has the potential to step up like he has. Gerald Green showed some promise in the early going of the postseason, but has seen his playing time disappear.
Now is as good a time as any for Augustin to make fans forget about his dismal regular season. He has been erratic at best, and his playmaking skills have also dwindled.
However, the Pacers sure could use somebody in the mold of a Byron Scott, who came off the bench in the mid-1990s with his timely sniping and helped the team go deeper into the postseason.
This is what D.J. Augustin, who was Byron-esque in Game 1 against New York, was signed up for.
Right now, he has what it takes to be the missing spark off the Pacers' bench, but one game is not enough. He has to be more consistent.
Lance Stephenson, soaring above Carmelo Anthony, has been a do-it-all perfomer at the 2 spot.
Lance Stephenson continues to get the job done at the 2 spot for the Pacers.
In spite of him exceeding everybody's expectations during the regular season, there were still some lingering questions about his maturity to deliver the goods when it matters the most.
So far, those doubts have been put to rest by the player dubbed "Born Ready."
His playoff stat line (8.3 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 4.1 APG) may not be eye-popping, but with the way he has performed, he has the potential to be as versatile as 2013 NBA Most Improved Player Paul George.
If his 10 points, eight rebounds and nine assists in Game 5 versus the Hawks are any indication, he also has what it takes to put up several triple-doubles in the years to come.
The knock on Stephenson is his tendency to be inconsistent on offense. He does, however, make up for this with his exceptional rebounding ability for a shooting guard.
In his last three playoff appearances, he has averaged 12 rebounds—a postgame stat you would normally see from a power forward or center.
This asset allows the Pacers to create second opportunities and open up the floor for wide-open looks. Case in point: D.J. Augustin's fourth triple against the Knicks in Game 1 off a Stephenson rebound.
As you can see by that video, Lance is also an above-average passer.
With his fearlessness and athleticism, he can slash to the hoop at will. If he can also work on his mid-range game some more and score in the 12-15 point range, the Pacers will be even tougher to beat.
Heed the words of Paul George:
Lance, for the past three games, has been one of our best players. When he's playing at that level, we're a tough team. We feed off his energy every time he plays at that level. That's probably the biggest thing for us, him continuing to play at that level.
Well said, Paul.
Not too many teams can boast of an excellent rim protector like Roy Hibbert.
The real Roy Hibbert has finally stood up.
After a dreadful start to the regular season, Hibbert regained his bearings just in time. In the playoffs, he's been averaging 14.6 PPG, 8.7 RPG and 1.9 APG.
The key here is his presence on the defensive end. So far, he has logged an average of 2.29 blocks per game in the postseason.
In a series where guys like Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith make a living off penetrations to the basket, Hibbert will prove to be the difference-maker.
As the Game 1 postgame stat sheet indicates, so far so good. Big Roy was one of the reasons why Anthony and Smith shot a combined 14-of-43 from the field. Hibbert also tallied five blocks and altered countless others to assert his might defensively.
Coach Frank Vogel reiterates Hibbert's value to the Pacers after the Game 1 victory:
That's a big reason why we paid him all that money. He's one of the best rim protectors in the game. He's really grown and learned how to understand angles and getting no calls, playing without fouling and staying in the game. All the analytics say he's the toughest guy in the league to score against at the rim.
Roy also has risen to the occasion on offense. In the first round, his scoring down low was one of the factors in trying to get past the Hawks, who assigned Johan Petro to guard him with Zaza Pachulia out.
Hibbert averaged 17.5 PPG and 10 RPG in the last two games against the Hawks to help put them away for good.
If he can stay away from constant foul trouble, look for him to dominate even more.
Paul George has been great in the postseason, but it's way too early to say if he's the Pacers' legitimate go-to-guy in the playoffs.
Nobody can dispute the fact that Paul George's game has risen to new heights this season.
His playoff averages of 18.7 PPG, 8.9 RPG and 4.9 RPG are improvements over his regular-season numbers, a praiseworthy trend you definitely want in your team's stars.
However, is it safe to say Paul George is the Pacers' new go-to-guy in the postseason?
George started off like a house on fire in the Atlanta series, only for his performance to fizzle in the team's Game 6 win (four points on 2-of-10 shooting). In that game, he missed all five of his three-point attempts.
A sign of poise and composure is to lead the way in closing out the playoff series on the road.
George hasn't had that opportunity, but he'll get there. Lately and as previously mentioned, David West has been carrying the brunt of the scoring load. West is also the one who has been making the shots for the Pacers when they matter most.
Needless to say, Paul George is still learning the playoff ropes, but give him time.
Enough time to prove to everyone that he will eventually take over the reins as Indiana's next playoff hero.