The Indiana Pacers somewhat limped into the playoffs, losing five of their last six games. Rhythm might be a factor, but for a team that plays and succeeds with an apprehensive, ugly style, maybe it won't be that big of a deal. In the end, what will be a big deal comes in how individual matchups play out in Game 1 of their first round playoff game against the Atlanta Hawks.
Larry Drew's team visits Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Sunday, and the lineup the Atlanta head coach will roll with definitely doesn't make any attempts at shadowing the Pacers' lineup up. The Hawks are going small with a duel point guard backcourt of Jeff Teague and Devin Harris that will have speed over the size of George Hill and Lance Stephenson.
Up front, Atlanta is going with shooters over beef. Kyle Korver will start at the small forward slot to join Al Horford at center and forward Josh Smith. As such, it's obvious Atlanta will be looking to push the ball when opportunities present themselves, thus spreading the Pacers defense out.
Indiana, though, is a selective running team, as coach Frank Vogel told Grantland's Zach Lowe.
When they're running through the charge circle, it creates open 3s. In the Cleveland game [Note: a giant comeback win on April 9], we were talking about how Lance Stephenson and George Hill were pushing the ball in the second half. Well, every time they were at the front of the rim, there was a big right there occupying the help. So them running hard creates a lot of stuff. And it's our best post-up play.
It's often Stephenson's "freight train" transition offense that gives his team the few extra buckets each game, Vogel added. And the Pacers certainly will use their size to emphasize matchup issues in the halfcourt.
Stephenson has a big-time advantage on whomever will be on his back. West might have the best matchup; he could go at Smith in the post to get the versatile forward in foul trouble.
And overall, the winner of the 3-6 matchup will be also winning with their style of ball.
Keys to the game
If the Hawks want to beat the Pacers, they'll need more out of Korver, who could be shadowed by either Paul George or Stephenson. He averaged 11.5 points on 36 percent shooting in four games against Atlanta this regular season, but finding a rhythm against the sticky Pacers defense by getting somewhere close to his 46 percent three-point shooting this season will change the complexion of the series.
On Indiana's end, getting off to a confident start will be key. The Pacers trailed by large double-digit deficits in each of their last six games -- even a comeback win against the Cavs -- and can't afford to lack that urgency in their first postseason game.
Time: 1 p.m. ET
Odds: Indiana opened as a six-point favorite.