After trading the first four games with the Atlanta Hawks, the East’s top-seeded Indiana Pacers will have a chance to take a commanding 3-2 series lead (Monday, 8pm ET).
When the #1 seed faces the #8 seed in the first round of the playoffs in any sport, you expect to see some lopsided results. However what you don’t expect is for those results to be lopsided in favor of the eight seed. I guess the Hawks just never got that memo.
On the season Atlanta wasn’t even a .500 team. In fact if they were in the West, their record would be closer to the bottom of the barrel and certainly not worthy of a playoff spot. As it was though, the Hawks and their 38-44 record squeaked into the postseason and as it turns out, are handling the 56-win Pacers pretty well.
In Atlanta’s two wins, the Hawks outscored the Pacers by 21 total points and won by no fewer than eight points per game. The Pacers meanwhile have outscored the Hawks by 20 in their two wins with 16 of those extra points coming in the second game of the series.
After the first three games, the average margin of victory for the winning team was approximately 12.3 points per game. Even after game four, the only close game of this series, the average margin of victory still sits over 10.
It is surprising that the Pacers haven’t been as competitive in their two losses but not completely unbelievable. Despite 56 wins, Indiana limped to the finish line as 13 of their 26 losses on the season came in the final two months. They entered as the top seed, just barely taking it from the Miami Heat, but they did not look the team to beat and after four playoff games, they still don’t.
Can Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague do it Again?
When you look at the Atlanta Hawks’ roster, it is no surprise why this team is the East’s eighth overall seed. They have no superstar, no big name. Their bench is full of no names and has-beens. On the season, no player averaged more than 18 points.
However as they always say, the postseason is a different animal. The Hawks actually have the East’s fourth highest playoff scorer in Jeff Teague (21.3 PPG) and the eighth highest in Paul Millsap (19.3, pictured). And it is because of Millsap and Teague that Atlanta has not only stayed in this series but that they also have a chance to win it.
To be fair though, you have to give blame if you are going to give credit. In wins, Teague and Millsap have combined for 89 points but in losses, that number is just 78. While Millsap has actually scored more in the two losses courtesy of his 29-point game on Saturday, Teague has had a big drop-off. In wins, he leads all Atlanta scorers with 50 points, an average of 25 per game. In losses however, that number is just 28, an average of only 14 per game.
Teague alone is not responsible for Atlanta’s losses but it will be interesting to watch him on Monday. If he gets off to a good start, it could be a long night for the Pacers.
Paul George, the “Double Double” Machine
The Pacers and Hawks have played four games in this playoff series and Paul George has recorded a double-double in each of them. He is the only such player to do so.
Without George, who was Indiana’s leading scorer during the regular season, the Pacers most likely would be down 3-1 in this series. It was George’s 24 points that paced his team and a few clutch threes (4-of-7 on the night) that helped the team get the much-needed win.
The other hero of game four was David West who scored 18 points, recorded three steals and hit the game-winning three. He helped the Pacers to 19 fastbreak points which was 13 more than the Hawks and a pretty strong indicator of why Indiana was able to get the win.
Where for Art Thou Roy Hibbert?
At 7’2, 290 pounds, Indiana center Roy Hibbert has a noticeable size advantage on Jeff Teague (6’2, 181 lbs), Paul Millsap (6’8, 253 lbs), Atlanta’s own center, Pero Antic (6’11, 260 lbs) and almost every other player he will face in the postseason. However, that advantage has not materialized as much as it should have so far and this could be a problem for the Pacers going forward.
For Indiana to win on Monday and to win this series, they have to get Hibbert more involved in the game. He took a team-low five shots in game four, nine in game three, seven in game two and nine in game one.
More alarming than shots taken and Hibbert’s overall shooting percentage however (29% in the playoffs, 27% in the last 10 and 23% in the month of April) is the fact that he has been almost a non-factor in the rebounding game, which given his height should be his bread and butter.
Hibbert averaged 6.6 rebounds in the regular season but is averaging just 4.7 RPG against Atlanta. If you take out his personal 2013-14 playoff high eight in game one, Hibbert only has nine rebounds in the last three games, six of which come from the offensive glass.
To put it bluntly, there is absolutely no way the Pacers will reach the NBA Finals, let alone get past the Eastern Conference Finals and maybe even the Hawks, if their 7’2 center only averages one defensive rebound a game.
Atlanta Hawks at Indiana Pacers Betting Picks
- At home, Indiana was 35-6 on the season. On the road, they were just 21-20. So give this game five to the Pacers -7pts on the spread @ odds of -110 with BetOnline Sportsbook. They are coming off a tough but good win and are incredibly tough to beat in front of the hometown crowd. Don’t be surprised though when the Hawks steal game six on their own home courts leading to what will no doubt be the first and only real competitive game of this series, the game seven in Indiana.