Indiana gets past Atlanta – Now What?

indiana-paul-georgeDown 3-2 in their first-round series, Indiana stormed back to win their final two games against the Atlanta Hawks and avoid an upset of catastrophic proportions.

Looking at the statistics, you could say that the Hawks beat themselves more than the Pacers did anything to stop them. Relying on a heavy long-range attack to beat the East’s top seed, this strategy worked well for Atlanta in the first five games. However, it also became their undoing as they shot just 20-of-79 from the three-point line (25.3%) over the final two games.

Indiana’s 92-80 Game 7 victory was especially crazy since the Hawks hoisted a playoff record-breaking 44 three-pointers – hitting just 11 of those attempts. Basically, the Pacers dodged a bullet when a team that won only 38 regular season games shot terribly from the field over a two-game stretch.

So what did coach Frank Vogel have to say in the aftermath of this narrow series win? “It’s not easy,” he said, “guarding a team that takes 44 three’s, especially when 18 of those three’s came from their big guys.” Okay, fair enough, the Hawks did spread Indiana out and seek to minimize the Pacers’ inside defensive presence. But again, this was a team that finished six games under .500. So the question becomes, can we expect Indiana to get past the more talented and rising Washington Wizards in the conference semifinals?

The answer to this question will heavily depend on Roy Hibbert, who just hasn’t been himself over the past two months. He especially looked out of place against Atlanta’s jump-shooting barrage. However, he also earned some redemption in Game 7 by scoring 13 points, grabbing seven rebounds and blocking five shots.

indiana-roy-hibbertEverything points to Hibbert having a better overall series against Washington, which sports more traditional frontcourt size and offensive sets. We highly doubt that the Wizards will be attempting 40-plus three’s in the next round, so Hibbert should be a strong defensive presence. But then again, it’s been hard to predict when the 7’2″ big man will show up based on the latter half of the season. So we won’t truly know Hibbert’s impact until the Washington series is over with.

Team chemistry will be another issue. This is especially the case since Lance Stephenson and Evan Turner got into a fistfight before Game 1 of the Hawks series. Luckily, there was no word on any more incidents that were this dramatic. But it wasn’t long ago when Hibbert was publicly questioning the team’s offensive philosophy and complaining about not getting the ball enough. Championship teams don’t whine about who gets the ball, so this can’t resurface against the Wizards, and definitely not against Miami, should these two teams meet in the conference finals.

David West and Stephenson will also be question marks going into the Washington series. The latter is especially iffy from game to game and sometimes takes terrible shots. But the 6’5″ Stephenson did show up big on the glass in Game 7, grabbing 14 rebounds, including five on the offensive end. As for West, he brings a nice veteran presence to Indiana’s lineup, but he was off and on against Atlanta. Thankfully for the Pacers, he finished on a high note, scoring 13 points and blocking an incredible six shots.

About the lone guy that Indiana doesn’t need to worry about is Paul George. The star swingman put up 30 points and 11 rebounds in the winning Game 7 effort. “I got a chance to go to my mid-range,” George said after the victory. “It opened the game up. I felt confident coming off of screens and shooting the ball tonight.” For the entire series, he averaged 23.8 points and 10.7 rebounds, which are star numbers for sure.

This team boasts a championship-caliber roster. But they need to overcome inconsistent play and locker room problems if they are to reach their full potential.

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