ATLANTA — The Sunday afternoon film session wasn’t necessary. The Indiana Pacers knew they’d departed from normal in their Game 3 loss to the Atlanta Hawks in real-time, as they were being pushed around the floor at Philips Arena.
The film session only reinforced what they already knew, what everyone watching knew by halftime of Game 3; the Pacers let the Hawks off the mat and fumbled their chance to put a stranglehold on this series.
The Hawks had plenty do with it, of course. They came home and used some timely adjustments and some home-crowd energy to get back into the series. But the Pacers were awful generous for a team that has designs on a deep playoff run. They offered little resistance once the Hawks opened up a big lead, trailing by as many as 28 points after halftime and never getting closer than 18.
Again, you don’t need a film session to know that you’ll be receiving two thumbs down for a performance like that.
“It would have been understandable if we tried to do the things that we do and they just took us out of it,” Pacers All-Star swingman Paul George said. “We created all the mistakes. We didn’t come in ready to play. And the tape told it all. We did it. We didn’t come out ready to play.”
For a team that crawls into the playoffs that might be an acceptable excuse. But not for the No. 3 seed. Not with a 2-0 lead in the series and nothing but opportunity ahead of them. That’s what makes tonight’s Game 4 (7:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV) so unbelievably crucial for a Pacers team that has failed in 12 straight tries to win in Atlanta.
They cannot afford to “give” the Hawks any more life if they expect things to go as planned. George cannot allow Josh Smith to bottle him up in Game 4 the way he did in Game 3. Roy Hibbert has to chase away whatever Atlanta demons have plagued him over the years and dominate in the paint. David West, the Pacers’ leader and emotional backbone, cannot allow himself to get caught up in the swirl of foolishness that he did, throwing Al Horford to the ground and earning a Flagrant 1 foul before halftime. And the Pacers cannot be as careless with the basketball tonight as they were Saturday night, when plenty of their 22 turnovers helped fuel a 42-10 Hawks first half run that decided the game.
“That was probably the most disappointing thing, watching the video,” West said of all the unnecessary miscues. “Just being out of sync, not putting the ball where guys wanted the ball, the simple careless stuff. Again, stuff that we’re not going to overreact to that stuff, but we do know it’s of the utmost importance that we take care of the basketball if we want to win this series.”
The Hawks (14.3) and Pacers (14.5) ranked 21st and 22nd, respectively, in turnovers during the regular season. So for the Pacers to be as careless as they were was startling and even more pronounced in the video session, when Pacers coach Frank Vogel could rewind each and every mistake over and over again.
“These guys care, they work extremely hard, but they’re not always going to be perfect,” Vogel said. “And you have to point [the mistakes] out and hold them accountable and make sure you are drilling the right things to make sure we are executing the right way.”
One poor game can’t undo an entire season worth of playing at a high level. And West most definitely won’t allow the Pacers’ subpart effort and performance in Game 3 to beat them again in Game 4.
“The biggest thing for us is to refocus,” West said. “We still haven’t played great defense in this series, we’re still waiting on a great defensive performance from us. Again, it’s just about us taking care of that basketball. I really don’t know what else to say. Twenty-four turnovers, or whatever it was, is just way to many for a team that lives in transition, lives on transition [3-pointers] and transition dunks to be effective. We just played right into their hands.”
The Pacers can’t do that again, they better not if they want to a chance go home and finish this series in five.