by Kent Sterling
Teams can take nights off from playing defense in the NBA regular season, but rarely do you see a defense as passionless as what the Atlanta Hawks showed last night against the Indiana Pacers.
Legs can bounce back, shooting touch can return, and strategic decisions can turn a series, but when heart goes – say goodbye forever. The Hawks have played the first two games of the series like an AAU team that knows it’s overmatched. They just want this series and season to end.
As good as some Pacers teams have been over the years, none of them have won the first two games of a series by 15 or more points. That’s because the Pacers have never played a team lacking sack like this Hawks team.
The Pacers took a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series with a 113-98 thumping, and a one minute period in the game was an excellent microcosm of how a playoff game is lost.
The Hawks had the ball and a chance to take the last shot of the first quarter down only four. Devin Harris tried to attack the basket, but drove straight into the midsection of Roy Hibbert’s 270 lbs. carcass. The ball came loose, and Paul george grabbed it with just enough time to take a dribble and launch a 60-foot shot. Before he could, Johan Petro fouled him with 0.7 seconds left. George missed the first free throw, but Harris squawked enough to earn a technical foul. D.J. Augustin knocked down the foul shot, and George followed by making his second. The Hawks then turned over the inbounds pass, and the Pacers earned the last shot.
Roy Hibbert banked in a three, but after an official review it was determined that he did not get the shot off in time. Crisis averted – kind of. The Pacers lead 25-19 at the end of the first. In the first 45-seconds of the second quarter, the Hawks turned it over twice, the second by DeShawn Stevenson that he followed with a bad foul.
The Hawks were better offensively than in Game One, but they gave up enough easy looks that the result was never in question. The X-factor for the Hawks was very productive on offense as Josh Smith scored 16 points in only 20 minutes. His inability to defend without fouling, not his shot selection, was his undoing last night. He was 7-of-10 from the field – 3-of-4 outside the paint and 4-of-6 inside.
The Pacers have yet to lose a quarter in the series, and were featured twice in Sportscenter’s Top 10. Gerald Green throwing down on Josh Smith’s head is #3, and Roy Hibbert’s posterizing of Ivan Johnson is the top play. Those two highlights are more than I’ve seen on ESPN all season, but better late than never.
Paul George has been splendid, but George Hill has been the glue. Finally, this franchise is starting to display a likable collective personality, and I would expect the basketball fans that have laid dormant since the mayhem of the mid-2000s and retirement of Reggie Miller to begin to awaken.
Game Three is Saturday at 7:00p, and I expect more of the same from both the Pacers and Hawks. The Pacers haven’t played their best basketball, and the Hawks are making a dedicated push to start their vacations a little earlier. I would suspect the Hawks fans to be as passionless as the teams itself.
The Pacers will either sweep or win the series in five.