Point guard Jeff Teague is one of only two starters remaining on the Atlanta Hawks active roster involved in last season's playoff series loss to the Indiana Pacers.
ATLANTA — A new coach, three new starters and a new style.
Is it worth comparing the 2013 Atlanta Hawks’ and their playoff matchup against the Indiana Pacers to the 2014 version for both?
The answer is in some ways yes and in other ways no.
For the Hawks, who lost in a closely contested first-round series in six games to the Pacers last season, Josh Smith is gone, Al Horford is hurt and Lou Williams, who suffered a season-ending injury last season, is available off the bench. Point guard Jeff Teague and shooting guard Kyle Korver are the only constants, for the most part, from the Hawks’ last season.
For the Pacers, the starters remain basically the same: George Hill, Lance Stephenson, Paul George, David West and Roy Hibbert.
Also in for the Hawks is coach Mike Budenholzer, in place of Larry Drew, and starters DeMarre Carroll, Paul Millsap and Pero Antic and center Elton Brand coming in off the bench.
"We’re a different team, we play totally different and they’re a different team," said Teague, who will lead the Hawks into his hometown of Indianapolis for Game 1 on Saturday. "They’re playing really well. They had a great season. Their bigs are long, they’re athletic. We space the floor, we get out there in transition. We play fast so it’s totally different series from last year."
So different that Budenholzer said he does not reference any game film from the previous season.
With the 7-foot-2 Hibbert and the brawny 6-foot-9 West, the Hawks have a hard time matching up inside. However, that’s not how they play. The Hawks use their big men on the wings to stretch out an opposing defense. Incidentally, the Pacers’ own the NBA’s best defense in terms of field goal percentage.
Korver was asked if he thinks the Hawks match up better this season than they did in ’13.
"We’re a much different team than we were last year," he said. "We have different pieces and we have a little more size on the wing. We’re an experienced group. I don’t know if you want to say better matchup. I think we’re different matchups for them than we were last year. I think, obviously, our bigs’ being able to shoot the ball, (The Pacers) would prefer to pack it in the paint and their whole defense the whole year has been predicated on the other team shooting a lot of long twos and Hibbert and West kind of controlling the paint. They have a lot of good defenders.
"We do have some shooting. We have to make the shots, but we do have some opportunities there."
In terms of that contrast of styles, Budenholzer said the Hawks need to continue to play the way they have all season. That means using Teague’s speed to push the ball up the court and to take advantage of fast-break opportunities.
"We want to play with pace and as much as possible if we can get the game in transition," Budenholzer said. "Everybody knows how good of a half-court defensive team they are. Ultimately, we’re going to have execute and find ways to score against them when the game is slower and there is a set defense."
One topic of intense debate is the Pacers’ late-season struggles. To listen to the Hawks talk on Friday, it was as if the Pacers were the same team at the end of the season as they were in the first half. That is not the case. Indiana started the season 33-7 but finished 23-19 and had some very poor stretches, particularly at the very end.
That included the Hawks’ 107-88 win in Indiana on April 6.
"We’ve seen how we need to play to win," Korver said. "They had a stinker against us last game. We had a stinker against them earlier in the year. We’ve played against this team a lot. We know who they are, they know who we are. There’s not going to be a whole lot of secrets. We feel like if we work our system and play our game, we’re going to be there."
If they can pull it off, it will be one of the biggest upsets in Atlanta pro sports in quite some time.