Previewing Game 6 of the Pacers-Hawks first-round series.
1. Where We Are: The Indiana Pacers are in big trouble; that's where they are. The Atlanta Hawks blew the doors off the hinges in Game 5 in Indianapolis, taking control of the game with a 41-19 second quarter in which Mike Scott went off from 3-point range. The Hawks weathered the eventual Pacers' comeback in the fourth quarter and used lethal 3-point shooting (15-of-27 from downtown) to keep the Pacers uncomfortable all game. With the win, the Hawks took any possible pressure off of themselves and put everything on a very fragile Indiana psyche in this series.
Now we've got the Pacers scrambling to figure things out. Do you go with the status quo and hope the Hawks eventually fall to it? Or do you switch things up in an attempt to adapt to what the Hawks are doing and risk making things even worse for yourselves? The Hawks get to keep playing free and easy basketball because it suits their current personnel and it makes the Pacers uneasy. They have to figure it out in Game 6.
2. The Big Number: 30 and 39. The two big numbers have everything to do with 3-point shooting by the Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks shot the second most 3-pointers in the NBA this season at 25.8 per game and were 13th in the NBA with 36.3 percent made. In the first five games of this series against the Pacers, those numbers have increased and improved. The Hawks have upped their 3-point attempts to just over 30 a game with 30.2, and they've made an incredible 39.2 percent. They're taking the most 3-pointers per game in the playoffs and they have the third highest accuracy. They're burying their outside shots and the Pacers.
3. Key Adjustment: I wrote about this earlier today but the biggest adjustment the Pacers can make (outside of defending the 3-point line) is going to David West more on offense. There isn't a body the Hawks can throw at him that will take away his advantage. He's too strong for Paul Millsap and the other big men for the Hawks are too slow. West's scoring touch has been remarkable in this series and his passing is leading to either shots at the rim or 3-pointers. He's averaging 4.8 assists per game in this series. Running the offense through him will open things up for the perimeter and give a steady hand with the ball.
4. The Big Story: Are the Pacers going to be another infamous 1-seed that gets knocked off in the first round of the playoffs? The Seattle SuperSonics lost to the Denver Nuggets back in 1994. The New York Knicks beat the Miami Heat in 1999. The Memphis Grizzlies toppled the San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the 2011 playoffs. And the Philadelphia 76ers took advantage of the Chicago Bulls losing Derrick Rose in the 2012 first round. Are the Pacers going to suffer the embarrassment of losing without having a major injury? Can they survive something like that as they continue building toward a title in the next couple years? At what point are they able to break the will of the Hawks, if ever?