The Atlanta Hawks made a statement in the first half of Game 3, taking a 54-30 lead over the Indiana Pacers at halftime. With the Hawks down 2-0 in the series, Saturday's game in Atlanta is a must-win.
The real difference in the game has been Josh Smith's move to the wing. After starting the previous two games at power forward, coach Larry Drew altered his lineup to shift his enigmatic star to the 3. Smith responded in a big way with 12 points, three rebounds and three assists while playing strong defense on Paul George and David West.
Late in the first quarter, the Hawks used an 18-0 run to take a commanding lead over Indiana. The Pacers went five minutes without a bucket, often turning the ball over or settling for poor shots. As a team, they shot just 23 percent from the floor and went 3-for-12 from behind the three-point arc.
Prior to Game 3, Jason Patt asked a couple of key questions about the game.
Will Larry Drew alter his starting lineup?
There was talk of the Hawks going with a different starting five leading up to Saturday's game. Instead of going with Kyle Korver on the wing, coach Drew inserted center Johan Petro into the lineup to shift Al Horford to power forward and Josh Smith to the wing.
It ended up paying off in a big way for Atlanta. They outscored the Pacers 27-14 in the first quarter, showing much more energy on both ends of the floor than they did at any time during the first two games. It also marked the first time in the series Atlanta outscored Indiana in any quarter.
Can the Hawks stay out of foul trouble?
The Hawks have been limited in the series because of fouling. They've been on the wrong side of the free-throw battle in both games, and Smith was highly ineffective in Game 2 after picking up two early whistles.
Atlanta was much more successful in the early going on Saturday night. They fouled the Pacers just nine times. Smith picked up just one late foul. As a team, the Hawks shot 13 free throws, while Indiana went to the line just nine times.
Can the Pacers' bench deliver again?
After scoring upwards of 30 points in Games 1 and 2, the Pacers bench really took a step back in the first half this evening. Gerald Green, who is coming off a 15-point effort, has three points thus far. After having eight points each in Game 2, D.J. Augustin and Jeff Pendergraph combined for just one point.
Unless the Pacers' bench suddenly wakes up, it's tough to imagine any kind of comeback in the second half.