Take a look at the following list of playoff games. It is the only good thing I have to say about the Pacers’ effort last night and in most of the games in their first round match-up against the Atlanta Hawks.
Not bad company, huh? The only reason that the list is this short is that Basketball-Reference’s game data for the playoffs only goes back to the 1986 post-season, but still, Paul George is the first player since Gary Payton in 2000 to post at least 25 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists, and 5 steals in a game. Interesting list of players too. Jordan’s not a surprise. Neither are Barkley or Pippen. Ewing is. He’s not really known for getting in passing lanes or for being a prolific assist producer, while his two rival All-NBA centers, David Robinson and Hakeem Olajuwon, were both great thieves and passers. Interesting thing about Pat showing up here is that he did it against a very solid Celtics front line, and it just goes to show how when Pat Riley came in he nerfed Ewing’s offense while making him the dominant defender of his generation (by the advanced stats anyway). Hawkins is totally out of left field, mostly because he played with a rebound-hungry big man lineup. Surprised by the lack of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Clyde Drexler. Kobe Bryant always played in a more conservative defensive scheme, so his absence isn’t a shock. Allen Iverson and Chris Paul are two theft-artists I could have seen making this group as well.
Should we talk about the Pacers’ utter collapse? I’m not sure I can give any better insight than Zach Lowe and Bill Simmons have in their various podcasts and articles on Grantland. The Hawks are just beating them into the ground with superior guard play, superior big man play, and superior teamwork. They are the more together squad, and they are earning their victories. We can just look at one number and see how much the effort and effective has reversed for these two teams since the regular season. In the regular season, Indi led the league in defensive rating, points allowed per 100 possessions at 99.3. Against the Hawks in the post-season they are giving up 105.6, which would not even make the top 10 in the regular season. The Hawks on the other hand had a DRtg of 106.4 in the regular season, barely above league average. Against the Pacers in the post-season their defensive rating is down to 102.9 good for 3rd best overall for the playoffs and a figure that would put them top 5 in the league for the regular season.
The good things for the Hawks and the bad things for the Pacers are all the same. Jeff Teague and Paul Millsap are outperforming George Hill and Roy Hibbert, while the Atlanta team cohesion steadily improves, and the Indiana identity fractures. Indi gets a chance to right the ship, but it’s hard to take them seriously as contenders anymore, and even if they somehow overcome the odds and wins this series, you’d have to favor the Wizards (assuming they continue to outplay the Bulls) in the next round.