Yet, they know the playoffs can’t keep going like this.
Beaten up and blown out in the first two games of their opening-round series against the Indiana Pacers, the Hawks were pondering lineup changes heading into Game 3 tonight. Coach Larry Drew said he’s looking for improvement at both ends of the court, but it’s clear that he’s mainly concerned about getting tougher defensively.
The Pacers averaged 110 points in taking a 2-0 lead in Indianapolis. Their average margin of victory was a comfortable 16 points.
“We may look to change the lineup a little bit,” Drew said Friday. “It’s about adjustments. We’ve done some good things in the first couple of games, but there are some things we need to do better. Some changes may push us over the edge in that respect.”
The Pacers have a huge size advantage, and they’ve taken full advantage of it so far. The Hawks had no answer for Paul George, who put up a triple-double (23 points, 11 rebounds, 12 assists) in the series opener, then added 27 points in Game 2.
With Atlanta focused on trying to stop George, David West and big center Roy Hibbert, guard George Hill has turned out to be another big weapon for the Pacers. He’s averaging 20 points in the series.
“When they kick it out, he’s knocking down shots,” Hawks guard Jeff Teague said. “He’s killing us.”
Atlanta doesn’t have a lot of options on the inside, especially after rugged center Zaza Pachulia went down with an Achilles injury late in the regular season.
Drew’s most likely option is to go with little-used 7-footer Johan Petro at center, which would have the ripple effect of moving Al Horford to power forward and Josh Smith to small forward, allowing 3-point specialist Kyle Korver to come off the bench.
But it’s not like Petro is suddenly going to become an All-Star-caliber player. Sure, he’s got size, but there’s a reason he played only 31 games during the season.
“Certainly, minus Zaza, that kind of puts us behind the 8-ball,” Drew said. “But I feel confident we can match up. We have ability to go big. We have ability to go small. The first couple of games, we played a lot of small. We tried to utilize our speed and our quickness. Now we may change a little bit. “
Teague conceded that Pachulia would have been a valuable weapon against a team such as Pacers.
“Zaza brings a physicality to the game,” Teague said. “I don’t think too many people in the locker room bring that. But we just have to take a piece of what he does on the floor and implement it in our game. Petro is going to come in and play big for us.”
Indiana certainly has no intention to change the way it’s playing.
The Pacers manhandled Atlanta on their home court, and they hope to do the same in a building where they haven’t had much success in recent years. Indiana has lost its last 11 games at Philips Arena.
“We haven’t won down there for a couple of years, so what’s a better time to change it than playoff time?” Hibbert said. “We know we have to get at least a split down there. Our mindset is to get both.”
George promised a different Pacers team than the one that’s struggled so much in Atlanta. They plan to stick with the bruising style that’s worked so well in this series, most notably creating a huge disparity in free throws. Indiana is 51-of-63 at the foul line, while Atlanta is just 18-of-34.
“We’re real confident,” George said. “Physicality is our brand of basketball and that’s how we play. We’ll step up to the occasion.”
Hill and fellow guard Lance Stephenson sat out part of the practice Friday in Indianapolis before the Pacers flew to Atlanta. But they are merely nursing minor ailments, nothing that was expected to keep them out of Game 3, coach Frank Vogel said.
For Indiana, this is a chance to gain a stranglehold on the best-of-seven series.
“We don’t think about losing or a team coming back on us,” George said. “We just want to keep our foot on the gas.”