Before the 2014 NBA playoffs, the Indiana Pacers were expected to have one of the easiest first-round matchups. As their series with the Atlanta Hawks enters Game Five, though, the No.1 seed in the East finds itself struggling to advance.
Game Five is set for Monday night in Indiana, with the series tied at 2-2. The Pacers narrowly avoided losing three of the first four games in the series. On Saturday, they got a key road victory over the Hawks, 91-88. The victory helped the Pacers reclaim home-court advantage in the series.
Much has been made about how poorly Indiana ended the regular season. Indiana had a chance to land the NBA’s top overall record, winning 40 of its first 51 games. While they still claimed the top seed in the conference, Indiana lost 13 games in the final month and a half, and their struggles have continued into the postseason.
"Look, this team won two of the last three games we've played in this building and they beat us pretty good," Indiana head coach Frank Vogel said about Atlanta. "So we have to stay hungry.”
In the regular season, no one was as dominant at home as the Pacers. They led the league, going 35-6 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The location of the games, though, hasn’t mattered much to the Hawks. Not only did Atlanta take Game One on Indiana’s home floor, but they upset the Pacers on April 6. Not only did the Hawks leave Indiana with a victory, but they won by 19 points.
If Atlanta can contain Paul George, there’s a good chance they can get one step closer to upsetting the Pacers in the series. The Pacers’ top player has performed well in the team’s playoff victories, but struggled in their losses. In Games One and Three, which saw the Hawks claim wins, George shot a combined nine-of-29 from the field, totaling 36 points. In Indiana’s postseason victories, the forward was much more efficient, scoring 51 points on 56 percent field-goal shooting.
For the Hawks, Jeff Teague’s play has been a determining factor in their success. The point guards is averaging 25 points and 7.5 assists in Atlanta’s playoff victories. In the team’s two playoff losses, Teague is averaging just 14 points per game on 11-of-28 shooting.
If the series’ pattern continues, Atlanta will come out on top in Game Five. Oddsmakers, however, do not expect that to happen, considering the Pacers are 6.5-point favorites at most Las Vegas casinos. The over/under has been set at 186.5. The contest is set to start at 8 p.m. ET on NBA TV.
Prediction: Indiana was the best defensive team in the regular season, but you wouldn’t know it from watching their first-round series. Roy Hibbert was the leading candidate to win the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award for most of the season, but his performance has seen a significant decrease. Atlanta is playing its best basketball of the season, and they’ll have no fear going on the road. If Paul Milsap can continue to have his way with Indiana, the Hawks can steal another game.
Predicted Score: Atlanta 98, Indiana 95