HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Winning at home is a given. It’s what the Indiana Pacers are supposed to do when facing a lower-seeded opponent in the playoffs. Bullying said opponent is always a good thing, too, especially when you are trying to shift the pressure back on the Atlanta Hawks the way the Pacers did with their 106-83 Game 5 beat down of the Hawks Wednesday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
But now comes the real challenge for the Pacers, armed with a 3-2 lead and the chance to end this series in Game 6 Friday night in Atlanta.
Do it again.
Be the bully.
Impose your will.
But, do it away from home this time.
Do it in Atlanta, where you haven’t won since 2006. Snuff out that 13-game losing streak on the Hawks’ home floor. Make those of us who are still skeptical of the Pacers’ Eastern Conference contender status believers.
It’s easy to play the tough role at home. Both of these teams have done that through five games. If you want to be taken seriously, though, you’re going to have to make a statement on the road at some point. If you don’t believe that, ask the Memphis Grizzlies (who used a huge road win in Los Angeles Tuesday night to take control of their first-round series against the Clippers).
Pacers’ big man and unquestioned leader David West understands what needs to be done. He showed as much in Game 5 with a much-needed breakout performance (24 points on 11-for-16 shooting from the floor). For all the things All-Star swingman Paul George can do to take over a game, the Pacers need a show of force to get past the Hawks and move on to whatever challenges await them in the conference semifinals.
West instigated things in Game 5 and his teammates followed. George finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds, Roy Hibbert with 18 and nine and Lance Stephenson 12 rebounds as the Pacers outmuscled the Hawks on the boards 51-28. West finally backed up his barking with the production and the Pacers reaffirmed their control in this series. Now they have to take this show on the road.
“I just wanted to come out and be aggressive, take a couple of jump shots and get our guys going and get our flow,” West said. “We looked at the film [from Games 3 and 4 in Atlanta] and we left about 30 to 40 points on the board down there just not concentrating on our finishes. We didn’t give up that four or five minutes stretch we gave up in the two games at their place where they were able to extend the lead and make us fight uphill the rest of the way. It’s more about us, we were just a little bit more focused, we’ve had a couple of fiery film sessions and really, really challenged guys to own up and I thought guys did a good job responding to that. We were the initiators and not so much reacting to what they were doing.”
The Pacers earned the clear advantage in Game 5 with a show of physical force, one that caused the Hawks to melt down with Josh Smith, Jeff Teague and Ivan Johnson earning technical fouls, causing coach Larry Drew to chide his team afterwards for losing their composure and not playing smart.
It had nothing to do with the Pacers’ scheme or their analytics. It had to do with Pacers’ coach FrankVogel‘s favorite word, “disposition.”
Improved disposition on both ends of the floor by the Pacers, the better team by basically every measure, have to find a way to do what they did in Game 5 in Game 6 Friday night at Philips Arena.
Vogel disagrees, of course. He’s still clinging to the notion that this is tactical battle instead of an emotional test of wills.
“It’s just about how we’re playing in that building versus this building,” Vogel said. “I think there has been a series of moves in this series where you play a game and something works or doesn’t work and you make an adjustment. Their adjustments down there, give Drew credit, changed the momentum. Hopefully, we changed it back into our momentum and hopefully we can get game 6.”
West knows better. You lose 14 straight games in Atlanta and the pressure shifts right back on the home team for Game 7. The skeptics come roaring back into the picture, questioning the Pacers’ mettle.
A legitimate contender, the sort of big-time outfit the Pacers’ paper profile suggests they are, finds a way to end this series in six.
“We just have to fight,” West said. “We can’t have those spells where we’re on somebody else’s floor, where we for four to six minutes we are turning the ball over and giving them extra opportunities. We’ve got to to be able to go in there and handle that environment and control the basketball game. Go inside, set the tone defensively and let the chips fall where they may after that.”