If misery loves company, the Pacers are not alone.
Five road underdogs won Game 1s over the weekend: Portland (in Houston), Washington (in Chicago), Golden State (in L.A.) and Brooklyn (in Toronto).
Of course, none of the home teams looked quite as wretched as the Pacers in falling 101-93 to the Hawks Saturday night, and Indiana was the only one of the top two seeds in either conference to lose its opener.
As the Pacers prepare for an absolute must-win Tuesday night in Game 2, it’s difficult to know what to expect from the home team. They knew exactly what they had to do in order to beat the Hawks: contain Jeff Teague, dominate the lane and throw blankets over Atlanta’s 3-point shooters, and they did exactly none of those things.
Teague scored 28, Roy Hibbert and David West combined for 16 points, nine fouls and seven turnovers, and the Hawks almost set a franchise postseason record by making 11-of-30 from the 3-point line.
The trends with Teague, Hibbert and West have been pivotal in the five meetings this season. In three Atlanta wins, Teague has averaged 22.7 points and 16.7 shots. In two Indiana wins, he has averaged 8.5 points and 8.0 shots.
Look for Paul George to spend more time on Teague Tuesday night as the Pacers try harder to get the ball out of the Atlanta point guard’s hands.
“It’s a team defense,” George said. “Teague is playing at a high level. Everybody’s got to be locked in. His speed is in the elite class. He’s up there with Derrick Rose, John Wall, Russell Westbrook, I mean his speed is elite. The same way you guard those guys, you’ve got to load up and make sure the help is behind G-Hill.”
The Pacers’ big men likewise have been determining factors. In Indiana’s two wins, they combined to average 28.5 points on 50 percent shooting. In the three losses, the averages are 13 points and 34 percent.
The problem, at least defensively, has been the Pero Antic matchup. If Hibbert gets the call, it takes the Pacers’ best shot-blocker away from the basket. If West guards Antic, Hibbert is forced to contend with the much more agile Paul Millsap.
The Pacers have lost all three games Antic has played as he and Millsap have combined to outscore Hibbert and West 88-39.
“Obviously we have to make them guard us and defend us,” West said. “We’re just fouling too much and not being solid and making them score over us.”
As for the Hawks’ 3-point shooting? It’s a constant. They’ve outscored the Pacers by 45 points from the arc in five meetings, a deficit Indiana has been unable to consistently overcome.
Given the last two meetings resulted in embarrassing home losses for the Pacers, might coach Frank Vogel be more inclined to deviate from the norm and try some shuffling to the lineup and/or rotation? Chris Copeland would seem infinitely more suited to play against a team with a spread lineup than either Hibbert or Luis Scola. C.J. Watson has been consistently more productive than Hill at point guard since returning from a long absence due to elbow and hamstring injuries.
“Probably stick with what we have but in the playoffs you’ve got to contemplate everything,” Vogel said. “You’ve got a difficult matchup with a unique offensive attack, so you consider everything.”
Here are some more numbers to consider:
>> The Pacers are 2-18 when losing Game 1, but bounced back from a home loss in the opener in 2012 to beat Orlando in five games.
>> No team with a regular-season winning percentage of .463 or worse (Atlanta’s mark) has won a postseason series since 1976.
>> In matchups between the top seed and eighth seed, the favored team has gone 55-5 since the playoffs were expanded to 16 teams in 1984.
The numbers define the formula for the Pacers’ success. It’s up to them to replace the troublesome variables with trustworthy constants.