The Indiana Pacers sputtered through the regular season finish line, but falling behind 2-1 in the first round is a surprise. Now they're in a must-win situation in Game 4 against the Hawks. Lose and they'll face back-to-back elimination games before having the chance to bring the series back to Indiana for a Game 7. Win and the series momentum will seesaw back to their favor.
In three games, Indiana's offense has scored just 99.6 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com/stats. That figure would rank 28th in the regular season, a hair below the offensively challenged Celtics and Bulls. But the Pacers' defense has crumbled, too. They're giving up 101.1 points per 100 possessions, a good mark for an average team, but almost five points worse than the regular season.
The Hawks are spreading the Pacers out with three-point shooting at all positions and letting Jeff Teague thrive in the opening gaps. Teague, a lightning bug ball handler and shifty scorer, has thrived with that spacing. He's averaging 21.3 points, 6.3 assists, 3.3 boards and 1.3 steals through the first three games. When he gets past the first defender, Indiana's defense collapses and Teague can kick the ball out to a number of shooters on the perimeter.
Those shooters have rendered Indiana big man Roy Hibbert useless on defense. He's an excellent rim protector, but he isn't fit to chase Pero Antic around the three-point line. Antic is just 3-of-14 from deep, but he's still a threat to shoot from deep. And there's no one else in Atlanta's rotation on whom the Pacers can hide Hibbert: Paul Millsap is a 36 percent long range shooter and Mike Scott shot 31 percent.
Hibbert's been a no show on offense, too. He's just 7-of-25 (28 percent) from the field and has turned the ball over seven times. He isn't rebounding or blocking shots. At this point, it's reasonable to wonder if he should even be on the floor. Paul George has done his part: He's averaging 21 points, 11.3 boards, five assists and 2.67 steals per game. The Pacers need him to keep playing like a star if they want to advance against the Hawks.
TV schedule: TNT; 2 p.m. ET
Announcing crew: Brian Anderson, Greg Anthony and Rachel Nichols
Local: SportsSouth, WZGC-FM, 1070 The Fan
Canada: SPORTSNET ONE