How does that age-old NBA cliche go again?
Oh, right: This game is a must-win.
Fans tire of hearing it, but it's an adage thrown around often this time of year, when the playoffs are in full swing and teams are more desperate to win than ever—teams like the Indiana Pacers, for instance.
No distinction is necessary. Deeming one game more important than another is frequently looked down upon, but not here.
The Pacers absolutely must win Game 2. If they don't, they risk heading to Atlanta down 2-0, two losses shy of a complete late-season meltdown.
History is already working against the Pacers in a way. ESPN Stats & Information notes that the last two times No. 8 seeds upset No. 1 seeds, it started with Game 1:
Pacers are the 4th 1 seed to lose to an 8 in Game 1 since 2003. The last 2 times that happened (2011 and 2007), the 1 seed lost the series— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 20, 2014
Avoiding a similar fate starts with reversing fortunes in Game 2.
Game 1 was a disaster for the Pacers, who were unable to stop Jeff Teague and saw Roy Hibbert marginalized on both ends of the floor.
George himself, like so many of his teammates, struggled offensively. He shot just 6-of-18 from the floor and was bailed out by being sent to the free-throw line, where he amassed nine of his 24 points.
Collective effort wasn't where it needed to be for a playoff game. The Pacers worked endlessly to secure the Eastern Conference's top seed and the home-court advantage it came with, only to watch the Hawks steal that very edge in Game 1.
A complete lack of heart and resolve led TNT's Charles Barkley to refer to the Pacers as "wussies" and "dogs" during an on-air soliloquy. Given how poorly the Pacers played, he wasn't wrong.
Bleacher Report's Grant Hughes also sounded the alarm, noting that there's no clear path back to competency for Indiana:
If the Pacers find their pride and lean on a defense that should still be functional amid a total offensive collapse, they can certainly recover to avoid the shame of losing a playoff series to one of the least-accomplished No. 8 seeds in NBA history.
But in watching the Pacers' embarrassing 101-93 loss to Atlanta, it was hard to see a path toward redemption. If Indiana can't get up for a playoff game—if it can't fix its terrible body language and clunky offense in a do-or-die circumstance—when can it?
Even with the mismatches Atlanta's small-ball lineups create, one has no choice but to believe the Pacers defense will figure things out. Basketball-Reference.com indicates that it relinquished 100 or more points just 21 times through 82 regular-season games, so the blueprint for success is there.
Offense is the Pacers' main concern. On that side of the ball, they've been awful.
In Game 1, only one starter—George Hill—shot better than 45 percent. The offense as a whole wasn't in sync, as the Pacers struggled to find someone, anyone, with a hot hand.
At this point, it's up to George to elevate the team's offensive play. He was its leading scorer during the regular season. That can't change now. The Pacers need him to be on his game.
According to the team's director of media relations, David Benner, George is working hard to ensure he gets there:
Long after practice is over, Paul George works on his shot in an empty practice court. pic.twitter.com/GYqEsnql1Y— David Benner (@PacersDMB) April 21, 2014
Which team will win Game 2?
"We’re fine," George told Pacers.com's Manny Randhawa. "We’ll get everything under control for Game 2."
The Pacers better hope so. They cannot lose Game 2.
It's a must-win in every sense of the phrase, a contest they cannot afford to lose because it creates a 2-0 deficit this embattled Pacers team isn't equipped to overcome.