By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com
INDIANAPOLIS – Embarrassment hasn’t snapped the Indiana Pacers out of all that’s been ailing them for the past couple of months. Exasperation doesn’t seem capable of getting the job done, either, no matter how often they lose or get booed at home now.
So, it’s on to elimination, to see what effect – if any – that might have.
If the threat of being put out of these 2014 playoffs as soon as Thursday doesn’t grab the Pacers’ attention immediately, if the idea of playing all year for a home-court advantage they might squander in less than two weeks isn’t ominous enough, then we might as well skip the smelling salts and go right to a mirror under their noses.
Indiana flatlined for one gruesome quarter Monday in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference first-round series against Atlanta and it was too, too much to overcome. The Pacers got outscored 41-19 in the second quarter, a franchise-worst for points allowed in a postseason quarter. They got burned for 15 3-pointers, the most ever made by the Hawks in the playoffs – and the most ever given up by Indiana in any postseason game.
And when it was all over, the Hawks – jovial in the Pacers’ once-formidable building, the home team’s unraveling again on lurid display – sent a couple guys named Mike Scott and Shelvin Mack to the interview room.
Drop the mic? Pretty darn close. No. 8 has No. 1 on the brink of its offseason. A frantic, futile rush over the final 15 minutes, during which the Pacers bombed their way to a 40-22 edge without ever getting closer than three possessions, couldn’t make up for that disastrous second quarter.
“For whatever reason, we were on our heels and they were playing at a different level than we were,” forward David West said. “Mike Scott comes out and goes on a 12-0 run by himself. We don’t respond, and they end up with a 40-point quarter.”
Indiana coach Frank Vogel turned to his bench to start the second quarter and his bench turned to stone. The 6-foot-8 Scott, well out of Luis Scola‘s reach or closing speed, drained four 3-pointers on four trips, Kyle Korver hit a pair and Mack had five points during a 25-4 run that took just six minutes. Already caught loitering on offense, in need of some serious movement, Atlanta’s deep blitz made the Pacers look just as planted on the defensive end.
A team that gave up just 92.3 per game in the regular season got torched for 25 in half a quarter. You do the math.
“It’s not just the guys guarding the ball, it’s the guys off the ball,” West said. “Everybody wasn’t engaged when the ball’s going away. A guy’s able to stand out there, get two shots up. We’re watching the guy who’s guarding him, saying, ‘Hey, you do it.’ But we play a five-man defense. Everybody’s responsible for the basketball when they’re on the floor.”
What’s going on in this series is no secret: Atlanta spreads the floor with shooters, including its center Pero Antic, to draw out defenders and open lanes to the basket for, well, pretty much anyone who wants them (Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap, Mack). It’s a particularly vexing style for Indiana, since 7-foot-2 Roy Hibbert gets drawn away from the rim, forfeiting the shot-blocking and altering he does best.
Then Indiana can’t make the Hawks pay at the other end because Hibbert isn’t a go-to, post-up scorer. His lack of effectiveness and confidence limited him to 12:13, during which he had as many points and rebounds as you and I did combined.
Atlanta had hoisted 124 3-pointers in the first four games, making a mediocre 44 (35.5 percent). They let another 27 fly Monday and hit 15, and sucked everything but the boos out of Bankers Life Fieldhouse when they took 11 and made nine in that doomsday second quarter.
“We’ve been shooting all these threes all series, we just haven’t been making them,” Korver said.
Mack’s 20 were the most he’d ever scored in a playoff game, ditto for Scott’s 17. The Hawks’ bench overall scored 45 points, nearly lapping Indiana’s and showing how comfortable Atlanta has gotten on the Pacers’ court. Role players are supposed to thrive at home in the postseason, right? Indiana lost at Bankers Life Fieldhouse only six times in 41 games over five-and-a-half months. Well, the Hawks now have won there three times in 22 days.
“Obviously they’re not going to want to go home,” Korver said. “We’re going to get a great shot from them. We saw, when their defensive pressure picked up in the second half, they caused a lot of problems for us.
“We’re playing the way that we play, they’re playing the way that they play. Every game has gone back and forth. There hasn’t been a team that’s won two games in a row. We’ve got to try to end that streak.”
And end the Pacers, period.