The Pacers ranked 23rd in the NBA with fewer than 95 points per game in the regular season. Led by forward Paul George, Indiana has picked up the pace in the playoffs. The Pacers have averaged 110 points in winning the first two games of the first-round series.
Hawks coach Larry Drew said Thursday his team has struggled with the bigger Pacers, including 7-foot-2 center Roy Hibbert and 6-9 power forward David West.
“Right now they’re a tough team for us to match up against,” Drew said. “They’re big. They’re athletic.”
With George, also 6-9, at small forward, the Pacers’ front line was bigger at every spot in Wednesday night’s 113-98 win at Indiana. The Hawks matched the Pacers’ size only at point guard, where Atlanta’s Jeff Teague and Indiana’s George Hill are 6-2.
Drew hoped his team’s quickness would make up for the size disadvantage. He started two point guards – Devin Harris and Teague – in an attempt to emphasize quickness. Harris led the Hawks with 17 points, but it wasn’t enough to overcome George’s 27 points and eight rebounds and Hibbert’s 15 points and nine rebounds.
“They’re a tough team to defend,” Drew said. “We’re going to have to continue to defensively look at some different things. ... But again, the matchups are tough. Real tough.”
Drew said he’s looking at possible lineup changes as the series shifts to Atlanta for Game 3 on Saturday night. The Hawks won both regular-season games at home against Indiana.
“We’re 0-2 in Atlanta and we have to remember that in the back of our heads,” George said. “We’ve played well, but we haven’t finished down there. That has to be in the back of our minds and play a full game.”
Drew said it is clear the Hawks can’t afford to fall behind 3-0 in the series.
“We recognize the importance of the game,” he said. “However you want to phrase it, it’s a very important game, coming back home. As I told our guys, we’re not going to look too far ahead. The most important thing now is the next game. We’ve played this team well, particularly in our building.”
There are no obvious quick fixes for the Hawks’ defensive matchup problems.
Drew could start backup center Johan Petro in a bigger lineup. That would allow Al Horford to move from center to power forward, with Josh Smith shifting to small forward.
If healthy, Zaza Pachulia would be starting at center. Drew confirmed Thursday he would have used his big lineup, with Pachulia, Horford and Smith on the front line, against the Pacers, but Pachulia had season-ending surgery on his right Achilles tendon earlier this month.
The matchup problems showed in the Hawks’ foul totals.
Petro drew five fouls in about 14 minutes in Wednesday night’s 113-98 loss. Smith had five fouls while playing only 20 minutes. Backup forward Ivan Johnson had four fouls in 10 minutes.
Harris, Horford and Johnson were called for technicals.
“We have to play through our frustration,” Drew said. “What’s happening now is frustration is starting to be an enemy of ours.”
The Pacers have a 63-34 advantage in free-throw attempts in the first two games of the series.
“We definitely have to bottle the emotions up but, you know, it’s hard,” Smith said. “It’s the postseason. Each and every possession, each and every game is so special. Emotions do sometimes get the best of us. Then again, everybody needs to understand the importance and know it will be a little more emotional than the regular season. So it’s kind of like having thick skin.”
As he watched teammates laughing and joking while shooting after Thursday’s light practice, Petro said confidence will not be a problem for the Hawks.
“Look at us,” Petro said. “We’re down two but we’re pretty confident about what we can do at home. We kept our home court in the regular season and that’s definitely where the mindset is. They did what they needed to do by winning the two at their home. Now it’s our turn to do the same job.”