Previewing Game 3 of the Pacers-Hawks first-round series.
1. Where We Are: The Indiana Pacers avoided complete embarrassment after the first game by winning the second game in the manner they typically do. They dominated the third quarter and used that stretch to take control of the game. Paul George was the star we assumed he'd be and the Hawks' attack went from free-flowing and perimeter-oriented in the first half to stifled and disjointed in the second half. George defending Jeff Teague for big stretches was a huge part in slowing down the attack of Atlanta and finding a way to force turnovers and get some easy buckets the other way.
The bench stepped up for Indiana too. Luis Scola was in FIBA God Mode for the Pacers, scoring 20 points in just 19 minutes of action. He had everything working for him in this game, scoring on jumpers and in the post against various defenders. Ian Mahinmi gave the Pacers great defense off the bench, and C.J. Watson chipped in 10 points too. Most importantly for Indiana was they took away the Hawks' ball movement, allowing just 13 assists on 31 made shots.
2. The Big Number: Plus-80.2. That was the net rating of the Indiana Pacers in that decisive third quarter. They outscored the Hawks 31-13 by destroying them on both ends of the floor. Paul George hit a couple of big 3-pointers, including one to end the quarter. During the regular season, the Pacers had the best net rating in the NBA in third quarters with a plus-14.6 points per 100 possessions. They've been so good at coming out of halftime, regrouping and adjusting their game plan, and then executing it to near perfection against their opponents. They were flawless in it in the third quarter of Game 2 against the Hawks.
3. Key Adjustment: Getting contributions out of Luis Scola really opened things up for the Pacers' lineups. Roy Hibbert still struggled on offense and they're not going to power forward David West much in the low block because Paul Millsap is long enough and quick enough to bother those attempts. But Scola is sneaky and smooth by finding proper spacing to get good shots off. The Pacers gave him a couple jumpers, let him duck in on offense when there was space around the rim, and had him posting up in his crafty, veteran manner. This allowed them to play with their lineups quite a bit in this game to give the Hawks different looks. They could play Scola anywhere in this game for short stretches because he was the second best weapon they had behind George.
4. The Big Story: We finally got to see the Indiana Pacers play their style of basketball again. It's mostly mental with them with the rest coming from schematic mismatches with this Hawks' team. The Hawks' style without Al Horford is something that's hard to get around from a traditional basketball standpoint. It took the Pacers a long time to adjust and it ended up costing them the first game and the first half of the second game. But the adjustment did come and now we can possibly see the breakthrough we've been waiting months for. Reports of the coach's job being on the line, Lance Stephenson and Evan Turner fighting, and all of this unrest can either tear them apart or bring them together to battle the world.
As dramatic as that sounds, it's the reality of a fragile team psyche in Indiana. The Pacers may have figured out how to channel it properly and execute their game plan. We'll find out for certain when we watch Game 3 in Atlanta Thursday night.