In the first round of the 2014 Eastern Conference playoffs the first seeded Indiana Pacers ( 56-26) are going against the eighth seeded Atlanta Hawks (38-44). During the regular season these two teams faced off four times with the season series tied 2-2. Despite the 1-8 match up this should be an intriguing match up of two teams with varying styles of play. Let’ go through the keys to victory for each team.
Pacers Keys to Victory
Defense – The Pacers finished the season as the best defense in the NBA, despite a slight slip in defense for the second half of the season. Every series the Pacers will play in these playoffs defense is going to be the key. The Pacers defense held opponents to a leagues best efg% of 46.0% and also a league best 96.7 points per 100 possessions.
Rebounding – As Mike pointed out in his excellent piece about Roy Hibbert (Here), the Pacers bigs are great at boxing out allowing the guards the opportunity to get defensive rebounds and start the offense. The Pacers finished the season as the number one defensive rebounding team in the league and if they plan on winning this series and beyond this is a trend that has to continue.
Figuring out how to get Paul George going – This is wasn’t an issue in the first half of the season, largely because of the way Paul George was shooting the ball from mid-range, unfortunately for the Pacers that didn’t last and George regressed to the mean. Before the all star break George had an efg% of 50.6% and 40.2% from the mid range, post all star break George has struggled posting an efg% of 46.0% and 38.3% from the mid range. While these aren’t as steep of drops as they are being made to be, for a team that struggles to score consistently this could be huge.
Hawks Keys to Victory
Score consistently – The Hawks are going to have to find a way to score vs this Pacers defense, which if based off of the last time they played is something the Hawks may be able to do. They were able to beat the Pacers 107-88, in what was really a route from the opening tip as the Hawks had a 32-11 lead after the first quarter. If the Hawks can continue to move the ball and find a way to keep Roy Hibbert out of the paint defensively they shoud be able to score enough to beat the offensively challenged Pacers.
Get offensive rebounds – This is important because the Pacers defense is so good that there will be many chances for offensive rebounds and second shots. The problem, is the Pacers being the best defensive rebounding team in the league. That can truly be a challenge in it’s self.
Push the tempo – I’m not calling for the Hawks to play faster just to do it, they are currently 13th in pace, so this is not a team that plays slow. But I would like the Hawks to get into there offense even earlier in order to try and keep the Pacers from being able to set there defense up. This is something that may also help in limiting Roy Hibberts impact defensively.
I’m going to go with the Pacers in five. I feel like the Pacers will have one game where they struggle to score for numerous reasons, but the Pacers have too much talent for this series to go more than 5 games.