The home team is undefeated in this opening-round series between the Atlanta Hawks and the Indiana Pacers, and every game has been decided by double-digits, so the biggest drama in the matchup has developed over time. The Pacers hold a 3-2 series lead, meaning the Hawks are up against the wall and on the brink of elimination from the 2013 NBA Playoffs. For some reason, it just feels right to have Atlanta take things to a do-or-die Game 7. Here are three issues to consider heading into Game 6.
Will the Pacers' Defense Tame Atlanta's Pick-and-Roll?
Indiana spent the regular season suppressing opposing offenses and limiting good opportunities in the paint, but the Hawks have periodically found ways to break through the Pacers' top defensive unit in this series. The Pacers made adjustments in Game 5 and hit their stride again, and that is the focus over at Indy Cornrows heading into the game:
In Games 3 and 4 the Hawks were able to punch some holes in the Pacers' defense. Isolating Smith and Horford on the low block consistently provided Atlanta with good shots and they were also able to take care of some inconsistencies in how the Pacers defended the pick-and-roll. The big lineup I mentioned above, along with some fortuitous foul trouble for Smith, helped take care of the Hawks' post play, but defending the pick-and-roll was still a problem.
On Wednesday, Avi Freeman of Eight Points Nine Seconds, broke down some of Hibbert's problems in the pick-and-roll. He's certainly right that the Hawks' have exploited his lack of quickness, especially in Games 3 and 4, but I think the drastic over-hedging by West, Hansbrough and Pendergraph has been a bigger concern. The Pacers' big men have one primary responsibility, which is to stay between the ball-handler on the basket. Whether they get blown by because they're retreating on their heels or because they've jumped out too far, if they can't do that job the Hawks are going to get good scoring opportunities. Again Horford, Teague and Harris are all respectable mid-range shooters, but if a jumpshot from the elbow is the end result of a pick-and-roll I think the Pacers' have to feel good.
Will Josh Smith have success at SF?
Paul George has struggled to defend Josh Smith and some adjustments by Frank Vogel in Game 5 helped change that trend. It happened in a weird way. Vogel countered the larger lineup from Atlanta with a frontcourt lineup of Roy Hibbert, Tyler Hansbrough and Jeff Pendergraph. Smith tried to exploit the matchup against Pendergraph and got sucked into isolation attempts that made the Atlanta offense turn stagnant. Smith finished the game 5-16 from the field with 14 points, and the Hawks will need a lot better from their star wing player if they hope to force a Game 7.
Will Jeff Teague show up?
Simply put, Jeff Teague has to do better. The soon-to-be restricted free agent hasn't helped his cause during the playoffs, as the length of Roy Hibbert and the overall strength of the Indiana defense have forced him into tough situations. Robby Kalland of Hawks blog Peachtree Hoops has the gory details on Teague's offensive struggles:
Teague is shooting a miserable 34.8% (24-of-69) from the field in the first five games (36.2 eFG%), which is the worst on the team aside from Dahntay Jones, who has gone 1-of-4. Jeff is averaging just 14 points and 5.6 assists per game with an offensive rating of 93, and, most discouraging, is that only 21 of his 69 shots (30.4%) have come inside the restricted area (39.1% of Teague's regular season shot attempts came from the restricted area). Teague has been content to play on the outside, and has not attacked the paint with enough aggression coming off of pick-and-rolls. Even when he is getting in the paint, Teague is struggling to finish as he has gone just 10-for-21 (47.6%) inside the restricted area (Teague shot 55.9% from the restricted area in the regular season, around the league average).
His defense on George Hill can stand to improve, even if his offense doesn't come around in Game 6. Here's to hoping we see a better side of Jeff Teague on Friday night.
Pacers at Hawks, Game 6 (Indiana lead series, 3-2)
Game Time: 7 p.m. ET
Odds: Hawks are a two-point favorite at home, according to OddsShark.com