Well that was disappointing. The Pacers came out on a roll against the Hawks in their first round matchup tonight, scoring the first basket on a David West dunk and the second on a Roy Hibbert hook shot. The Hawks would shoot their way to a lead as the Pacers gave up one frustrating long offensive rebound after another, but Paul George and Lance Stephenson carried the team in the second quarter to go up by as much as 6 points. Then Paul George undid all his good work, missing bad shots and turning the ball over as the Hawks closed with a 7-1 run to tie the score at 50 apiece at halftime.
By then it was so far so good, with every reason to believe the Pacers could turn it up a notch in the third and break away. Instead, the opposite happened. Jeff Teague happened. Three pointers happened. And the horrible, out-of-rhythm Pacers we saw for the last couple of months returned.
The Hawks annihilated the Pacers in the third, starting with an 8-0 run and stretching the lead to as much as 18. The game was pretty much over with the Pacers trailing 80-66 at the end of three, and any hopes of a miraculous comeback were quickly dashed as the Pacers failed to make any inroads into the big lead, which swelled to 20 with around 4 minutes to go.
The final score of 101-93 was not indicative of how much better the Hawks were tonight. It wasn’t just that the Pacers lost home court advantage — it was how they lost it. They didn’t get the calls they were looking for at home, and the overdribbling, “selfish” isolations and poor body language reared its ugly head as soon as the chips were down.
Teague embarrassed George Hill and CJ Watson en route to a career playoff high 28 points, while Paul Millsap dominated his matchup with David West 25-8. Paul George had 24, 10 and 5, but it wasn’t a good night for him as he spent most of his time driving recklessly and hoping for whistles. It worked some of the time, giving him 12 free throw attempts (9 connected), but more often than not it didn’t turn out well for the Pacers.
Apart from a good second quarter stretch, Lance Stephenson tried too hard as well, to the team’s detriment. Despite scoring 19 and grabbing 7 boards, the team’s best playmaker only had one assist. George Hill had 12 points but was still not aggressive enough at both ends of the court, while Roy Hibbert’s struggles continued as he finished with 8 points and 8 rebounds, but with 6 of his points coming in garbage time. He was swatted twice by Kyle Korver and attempted an ill-advised three-pointer. The most inexcusable thing was that he didn’t even try on defense towards the end. After being beat up by the Hawks, Hibbert is now taking and beating on Twitter, and he has no one to blame but himself.
The bench was not pretty. Evan Turner was the X-factor in the first half with 7 efficient points and 2 assists, but he only scored once more after the break. Luis Scola’s mid-range jumper abandoned him at the worst time possible as he missed all 6 attempts and finished with just 2 points from the line. CJ Watson and Ian Mahinmi were not much better as they committed a total of 7 very bad fouls.
Despite all their woes, the Pacers sounded relatively upbeat after the game, pointing out that it is a long series. David West said they needed to foul less, while Paul George said they needed to figure out how to prevent from being stretched on defense. The problem is that there are issues across the board for the Pacers at both ends of the floor, and until they can get that figured out will it will continue to be an uphill climb in this series.
That said, it’s not time to panic. Game 2 is back at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Tuesday, so the Pacers will have a couple of days to iron out the kinks. Give their struggles in Atlanta, it’s safe to say it will be a must-win game.
PS: The Pacers aren’t alone in losing home court advantage after game one as both Brooklyn and Golden State prevailed on the road in the first two games of the 2014 playoffs.