>> Heading into the great unknown
Begin with having no idea what to expect from the Pacers on the court. As well as they have played in winning three home games by comfortable margins, they have played lifelessly in two road blowouts that extended their losing streak in Atlanta to 13 games.
“I think psychologically you can’t look at 13 in a row, you can’t look at you lost two in a row,” said Coach Frank Vogel. “You have to look at the fact that they play a different brand of basketball at home. They’re really, really good at home.
“Obviously, we’ve made some adjustments that hopefully pour some sand on the fire of what they did to us down there and hopefully we have a little better rotation and better plan. Every game’s different so you can’t look at what’s happened in the past there.”
The Pacers also headed to Atlanta uncertain of where their team charter jet would take them Friday night. Should the Knicks close out Boston in Game 6, the Pacers will travel to New York to begin their second-round series Sunday afternoon. If the Pacers lose they’ll be back for Game 7 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse Sunday. And if Boston wins, the Pacers will return to Indy for a brief respite before the next round.
>>Packing list: defense, check; black suits, not so much
They say defense travels, but the Pacers forgot to pack it on their last trip to Atlanta. Suffice to say if they forget everything else, including toothbrushes, they must remember to bring the D.
In their 106-83 rout in Game 5 Wednesday, the Pacers displayed their trademark defense for the first time in a few weeks, snapping a streak of 12 consecutive games in which opponents scored at least 90 points. They beat the Hawks to their spots, challenged them for every inch of the floor and kept their hands active in the passing lanes and in attacking the dribbler. Atlanta shot 33 percent and was just 3-for-14 from the 3-point line.
“I think we’re getting a better understanding of how to guard them but they’re an explosive offensive team,” Vogel said. “Josh Smith is going to play bigger minutes, Al Horford is going to shoot the ball better from the perimeter than he did (Wednesday) night. We just have to make sure we’re getting to them and contesting them and hopefully our defense does travel.”
One thing the Pacers definitely will not pack: black suits.
Seriously, did no one in the Knickleheads’ locker room or on the coaching staff realize that would be a bad idea? Thanks to that motivational misdeed, the Knicks will not get the rest they hoped for before opening the second-round series and that could ultimately prove costly.
>> Be ready for Atlanta’s best
Much of the reason the Pacers have looked so bad on the road is how good Atlanta has played at home. Their big three of Smith, Horford and Jeff Teague combined for 113 of the team’s 192 points (59 percent), and the defense held the Pacers to 27 percent shooting in Game 3 and 38 percent in Game 4.
After returning home from the two losses in Atlanta, the Pacers admitted they essentially overlooked the Hawks after winning the first two games at home so easily. That certainly can’t happen again, given the gravity of the situation.
The Pacers must head into Game 6 committed to playing at their highest level of the series, because anything less will not get the job done in a closeout game on the road.