Indiana’s Lance Stephenson, Evan Turner got into Fist Fight before Game 1

lance-stephenson-evan-turnerThe other day, we reported on how the Indiana Pacers are looking a little shaky in their series with the Atlanta Hawks. The number-one seeded Pacers were beaten 101-93 in a game where the final score made things appear much better than they were.

Well, things are looking better for Indiana since they rebounded on their home floor, grabbing a 101-85 win against the Hawks in Game 2. Atlanta actually made this a contest, until the Pacers dominated the third quarter by going on a 24-6 run. But despite the excellent performance, one thing that’s been overshadowing Indiana’s win is a story involving a fist fight before Game 1.

The two parties involved were Evan Turner and Lance Stephenson, and they apparently got into a fight while practicing before the first game. The two went at each other before David West and Luis Scola pulled the players off of each other.

There’s no word on exactly what caused the scuffle – maybe the team is keeping this info in the locker room. But we can only guess that Turner and Stephenson haven’t meshed well since Turner’s come over from Philadelphia in a mid-season trade. It’s no secret that Stephenson can be somewhat annoying with his questionable shot selection.

West discussed the matter before playing in Game 2 as he said, “We’ve been on the ropes a little bit. Every team goes through that. But I thought we did a great job of dealing with whatever issues we had.” West added, “The great thing about this group has always been that we’re very open with one another, always been able to get through the ups and downs of a long NBA season.”

The Pacers have mostly experienced downs over the last few weeks. However, they were able to even up the series with Atlanta, and they’ve got some steam heading into Game 3.

roy-hibbertEven with the momentum, though, Indiana has to be looking at the big picture here. Assuming they can beat the Hawks, which is definitely no given at this point, they need Roy Hibbert to get going. He was 1-for-7 in Game 2 and Atlanta has done a good job of nullifying his defensive efforts by constantly shooting 3’s.

Despite his complaining about the team down the stretch, Hibbert knows what’s on the line in these playoffs. “We know that Larry (Bird) and Donnie (Walsh) and (Kevin Pritchard) put a team together to try and win a championship this year,” he said. “We know that’s the goal, and we know that’s the kind of talent we have here. It’s up to us now to do it, to get it done.”

If Indiana doesn’t get it done, there’ll no doubt be questions to be answered this offseason. But at least these questions don’t start with swingman Paul George. Despite his Game 1 struggles, George showed why he’s this team’s franchise player in the second game after scoring 27 points, grabbing 10 boards, delivering six assists and producing four steals.

The main questions lie in what Indiana will do with Hibbert if he continues under-performing. He was a fringe-MVP candidate last year, but has been nothing more than an average center lately. Furthermore, where does Turner fit into this organization’s plans? So far, he’s fit like a square peg in a round hole and something needs to change quickly for he and the team chemistry. “I’m just trying to make the right plays here,” Turner said. “Some nights I get two shots, some nights I get 10 or 12. I’m trying to get acclimated.”

Once again, there’s plenty on the line for Indiana tonight as they play Game 3 in Atlanta. Another loss means more pressure on this club and further questions from the media. Another dominating win, and they can take control of this series and continue thinking about a potential championship run.

Are the Pacers headed for a First-Round Loss?

atlanta-indiana-game-2One of the big NBA storylines over the past few weeks has been the continued struggles of the Indiana Pacers. After rushing out to a sizable lead in the Eastern Conference, Indiana dropped behind Miami at one point, before finally rallying to re-take the number-one seed.

However, even with the way that Indiana limped down the stretch, not many people seriously expected the Atlanta Hawks to challenge them in the first round. This is, after all, the same Hawks team that lost their star center, Al Horford, to a torn pectoral muscle early in the season, and barely held off the disastrous Knicks for the East’s eighth seed.

But you can throw out everything that’s happened up to this point because a 38-win Atlanta squad holds a 1-0 lead in this series. So the question now becomes, are the Pacers headed for a downfall of epic proportions in the first round?

The obvious takeaway from Game 1 is that the Hawks’ big players, Jeff Teague and Paul Millsap, really showed up when it counted. Teague scored 28 points and dished out five assists while Millsap provided 25 points and eight rebounds. Aside from their stars playing well, the Hawks shot pretty well from the outside, hitting 11 out of a franchise-record 30 three-point attempts (36.7%). And this is exactly where Atlanta’s advantage lies in the series – outside shooting.

Indiana knew well in advance that their opponent is a perimeter-oriented team. David West said as much before Game 1 when he called the Hawks a “jump shooting team.” But the Pacers didn’t do a great job of forcing Atlanta out of their comfort zone. This isn’t a team that’s going to take many shots over Roy Hibbert and West in the paint. They’re going to put the ball in Teague’s hands in isolation sets and let him create opportunities with his quickness.

atlanta-indiana-game-1Closing out on Atlanta’s shooters wasn’t Indiana’s only problem. Their go-to swingman, Paul George, scored 24 points, but hit just 6-of-18 shots. West wasn’t much better as he made 4-of-10 attempts in a quiet, 8-point effort. Hibbert’s 4-of-9 shooting didn’t look so bad, until you consider that he made two garbage-time layups near the end. Then there was Louis Scola, who was the opposite of firepower off the bench with his 0-for-6 shooting effort. Coupled with the loss, it’s no wonder why Scola was later seen staring at the locker room floor.

Finally, there was the third quarter, where Atlanta went on a game-defining 14-0 run that put them ahead by a score of 74-58. From here, it was all about protecting their lead for Atlanta, which they did fairly well en route to a 101-93 victory.

Indiana is of course trying to remain optimistic about their outlook. “It’s frustrating. It’s frustrating, but it’s a long series,” George said following the disappointing loss. “It’s just one game and that’s the way we have to look at it.”

However, this one game was on the home floor of the NBA’s best home team. Now they face the prospect of having to win four out of six games, with three of these contests being in Atlanta. It’s not an impossible task for a talented team that looked so good to open the season. But the Pacers have to find a way to keep the Hawks from continually spreading the floor and getting open looks from beyond the arc.