The Pacers suddenly are an offensive juggernaut.
The Hawks certainly are making their playoff opponent look like one.
The Pacers ranked 23rd in the NBA in scoring during the regular season, with an average of 94.7 points a game. They rank third in scoring in the playoffs, with an average of 110 points in two victories over the Hawks.
The best-of-seven first-round series, which the Hawks trail 2-0, moves to Atlanta for Game 3 on Saturday and Game 4 on Monday. If the Hawks do not figure out how to stop the Pacers, their postseason will come to an end.
“They’ve made shots,” coach Larry Drew said of the Pacers after Thursday’s practice. “We’ve had some miscues defensively. That’s one of the things we spent this morning really looking at during our film session. This team has made us pay for all of our mistakes. I’m not talking about turnovers. I’m talking about being in the right position at the right time. They’ve made us pay when we are not.”
In 81 regular-season games, the Pacers scored 100 or more points 26 times. Three of those came against the Hawks. Only six teams in the league hit the century mark fewer times than the Pacers, yet they have scored 107 and 113 points in the playoff wins. The Hawks allowed the Pacers 100, 114 and 100 points in three of the four regular-season games.
The devil is in the defense. The Hawks have outshot the Pacers in both games, but have lost by 17 and 15 points. The Hawks are shooting 49.7 percent (77-of-155), and the Pacers are shooting 46.1 percent (76-of-165). The Pacers have had a sizable advantage in free throws and made 51 of 63 attempts. The Hawks made 18 of 34 attempts.
“They’ve been the dominant team the first two games,” Josh Smith said. “At the end of the day we have to stop making excuses and just go out there and play.”
Paul George has presented the biggest problem for the Hawks. The All-Star forward, recently voted the NBA’s Most Improved Player, scored 23 and 27 points in the postseason games, setting and topping his career playoff high. George Hill did the same with 18 and 22 points.
Much of the issues revolves around the Hawks’ attempt to limit the post presence of the Pacers’ Roy Hibbert and David West. Perimeter players have been caught too far inside trying to help, which has freed outside shooters for open jumpers, especially on the weak side, or drives to the basket. The poor execution of the rotations has resulted in a lack of help on defense.
“They are a team that is patient on offense,” said Devin Harris, who started Game 2 on George. “They get what they want. They made open shots and took advantage of the mistakes of we made defensively.”
There is a good chance that Harris will get the starting nod to defend George in Game 3. Drew was pleased with his effort, noting a film study showed that George scored only three of his 11 field goals when Harris was the defender.
The matchup problems the Hawks have with the size of the Pacers is complicated by the loss of Zaza Pachulia. Drew said the center would have started the first two games, as he did in both regular-season wins over the Pacers, if not for the season-ending surgery to repair a torn Achilles.
“They are a tough team for us to match up against,” Drew said. “They are big and athletic. … It’s defending them in the half court and keeping them off the free-throw line. They are a tough team to defend. We are going to have to continue, defensively, to look at some of the things we are doing. Chances are we will be making adjustments in Game 3. The matchups are real tough for us.”