A bit delayed, the Hawks’ postseason started Thursday.
The charter flight from New York, after a loss to the Knicks in the regular-season finale, did not arrive in Atlanta until nearly 5 a.m. because a cabin door would not close properly. Once finally home, and after a few hours of sleep, the Hawks began preparing for the Pacers with a late afternoon practice.
“I’m ready to get this series started,” Josh Smith said. “It’s postseason time, and it’s time to focus on one opponent. … It’s an exciting time, and I’m ready to go.”
Game 1 of the best-of-seven first-round series is at 1 p.m. Sunday in Indiana.
The Hawks spent the afternoon watching film of their four games against the Pacers, a series split two games apiece. There was discussion of the Pacers’ personnel, matchups and the offensive and defensive sets that likely will be employed. And there was talk of adjustments, for that is where this series may be won or lost. Each team knows the others’ strengths and weaknesses. What adjustments are made to counter those — and how well they are executed — will be key.
“We are going to have to be able to execute,” coach Larry Drew said. “The (playoff) game slows down a little bit. It becomes more of a half-court game. In the half-court game, we are going to have to be disciplined to get into our sets quick, to do them hard and to do them with purpose.
“Along the way, there are going to be adjustments made. Whether it’s from a matchup standpoint or whether it’s how you defend a certain set. There will be some adjustments.”
As the third-seeded Pacers own the home-court advantage over the sixth-seeded Hawks, winning at least one road game will be necessary for Atlanta to advance. While the Pacers have not won a game in Atlanta in their past 11 tries, dating to December 2006, the Hawks have had trouble in Indianapolis. They lost both games there this season, including a March contest when the Packers were without four starters.
A lot of teams had trouble there. The Pacers were 30-11 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
“We are going to have to go in there and put together some solid quarters,” Drew said. “We are going to have to go in there and dictate the rhythm and pace of the game. We want to play fast, but we don’t want to play in a hurry. Our shot selection is going to have to be good.
“We are going have to be disciplined to run our sets hard and run our sets with purpose and share the basketball. If we do that, I like our chances going in there.”
Smith concurred that keeping the home crowd out of the game would be important, especially in the early going.
“They have a really good crowd,” Smith said. “They shoot the ball extremely well at home. We are going to have to cut one of those two things off. I think being able to keep the crowd out of it and control the momentum from the jump is going to be key.”
Drew said he would spend the next two days focusing less on the Pacers and more on the Hawks. When the Hawks struggled this season, they got away from the up-tempo, ball-movement offense. The Hawks ranked first in the Eastern Conference and second in the NBA in assists. It will be that ball-sharing effort, even in the slower-pace physical nature of the playoffs, that will be necessary if the Hawks are to win on the road.
The Pacers ended the season by losing five of six games, including three at home.
“We talk about getting to this point,” Drew said. “We talk about what we need to do to get to this point. Now that we are here, we have to make a total commitment to playoff basketball.”