The Atlanta Hawks are ready to start mixing it up with
They don’t have a choice.
After complaining about how the first playoff game was called,
then getting chastised by their own coach for their poor effort in
the loss, the Hawks spent two days assessing the damage and how to
counter the Pacers’ tough, in-your-face brand of basketball. The
simple solution: Punch back.
”I’ve made no quarrels about how I feel we played from a
physicality standpoint,” Hawks coach Larry Drew said. ”They (the
players) are in agreement. So we have to come out and be more of a
presence from a physicality standpoint. Not to hurt anybody, but
doing things harder. Doing things with much more physicality.”
For the Hawks, Game 2 on Wednesday night isn’t just a chance to
get even with the Pacers. It’s a brand new opportunity.
Stealing a win on the road in this first-round playoff series
would send Atlanta home for Games 3 and 4 with that all-important
split on the road, provide needed confidence and momentum, and
prove to the rest of the league that these refocused Hawks are far
better than the sixth-seeded team that showed up for Sunday’s
Atlanta is at its best when it scores in transition and makes
3-pointers, and Indiana never gave the Hawks a chance to get into
that comfort zone Sunday. Atlanta managed only 14 fast-break points
Sunday, largely because the Central Division champs committed only
14 turnovers and most of those came on dead-ball possession
changes. The Hawks did manage to make 7 of 17 3-pointers but that
was only slightly more efficient than the Pacers 7 of 19 and no
Indiana has now won its last three against Atlanta, all at home,
and Drew detected a far bigger problem in Game 1.
While the Hawks spent much of the game worrying about the calls,
or lack thereof, which led to a huge discrepancy at the free-throw
line, Drew was more upset that his team didn’t play through the
calls and got beat up inside and out. He said the Hawks were
”manhandled,” a term that generated a faint smile from Pacers
coach Frank Vogel.
”I’d expect them to bring a great effort, but it gives me some
pride because that’s how we want to play,” Vogel said. ”We want
to be the more physical team.”
Indiana was missing that element during the final two weeks of
the regular season when it lost five of six games.
Paul George, who won the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award on
Tuesday, noted that the biggest change between that skid and the
start of the playoffs was the way Indiana used its hands to defend
without picking up silly fouls.
If they can be as effective locking up the Hawks again, the
Pacers could head to Atlanta — where they’ve lost 11 straight —
with their first 2-0 series lead since the 2004 Eastern Conference
semifinals. They know this will be more of a struggle.
”They’ll make some adjustments and we’ll have to be ready for
it,” said Pacers forward David West, who was diagnosed with a mild
sprained left ankle during Sunday’s 107-90 win. ”But it’s really
all about us, in terms of how we come out, our focus and locking
down the opportunities for them to knock down open 3s.”
Drew would rather see the Hawks match the Pacers’ intensity
after watching his team get outrebounded 48-32 in Game 1 and called
for 26 fouls as George continually attacked the basket.
What can the Hawks do?
They could go with bigger lineups, giving Johan Petro and Ivan
Johnson more playing time. Petro’s presence also would give the
Hawks another possible defender against Pacers center Roy Hibbert,
One potential concern for Atlanta is the effectiveness of
forward Josh Smith. Atlanta’s top scorer (17.5 points) and
second-leading rebounder (8.4) during the regular season managed
only 15 points and eight rebounds in Game 1, primarily with George
defending him, and Smith wound up spraining his right ankle late
when he stepped on Devin Harris’ foot. Smith missed Monday’s
practice, returned Tuesday and expects to be on the court Wednesday
surrounded by teammates playing with a far grittier effort.
”They’re a long, physical team. Especially on the defensive
end, we want to try to come up with the ball to create some fast
break opportunities for ourselves,” Smith said. ”So we’ve just
got to keep it up, run the offense with some urgency and be able to
come out in Game 2 and give a better effort.”
And match the Pacers, punch for punch.
”This is playoff time. There’s not anything we need to talk
about daily. That’s just how it is,” Drew said. ”You play solid,
amped-up basketball for 48 minutes. We’re going to have to get to