Atlanta likes to run. Indiana gets physical. Paul George will try to attack. Kyle Korver might be content to knock down 3-pointers.
Both teams know what’s coming and have spent the last three days preparing to defend against their biggest weaknesses while exploiting their top advantages when the best-of-seven series opens today in Indianapolis.
“When you look at us on paper from a matchup standpoint, we do give up size. Certain positions we give up athleticism,” Hawks coach Larry Drew said Saturday. “But we’ve been able to balance that with some of the other stuff that we do. I think with our guards, both Jeff (Teague) and Devin (Harris), they pose a problem because of their abilities in the open floor. We run a lot of pick-and-rolls, we’ve got bigs that can space it out and shoot it, so we balance it.”
The Pacers are certainly aware of the dangers Atlanta poses.
Korver always seems to play well against them and shot 75 percent from the field and 53.1 percent on 3-pointers during one 53-minute span in Atlanta’s two regular-season wins over Indiana (49-32). Versatile forward Josh Smith, who once committed to play at Indiana University, has caused trouble for the Pacers. And, of course, if the Hawks can score in transition, it mitigates one of Indiana’s biggest strengths — a stout defense.
Atlanta (44-38) also has shown it can be successful by mixing things up.
When Drew resorted to using a zone defense in the fourth quarter of the teams’ November contest, the Pacers were confounded. Indiana was just 4-of-19 shots from the field and scored only nine points in the final 12 minutes as Korver and Teague, an Indy native, combined for 15 points in an 18-0 run that allowed the Hawks to come back.
Pacers coach Frank Vogel has spent this week reminding his players about what went wrong.
“We’ve got to be prepared for whatever we see — switching, blitzing, zone, whatever,” he said after referring to Teague as the Pacers’ top concern. “I think adjustments by both teams can and will be made by both teams throughout the series. We’ve got Plan As, Plan Bs and Plan Cs.”
Vogel, of course, wouldn’t elaborate on his backup plans — or how the Pacers intend to end their 11-game losing streak in Atlanta. But after having so much extra time to examine every detail and fine-tune the game plan, the Pacers believe they can turn the corner and win their first opening game in a series since 2006.
“I know, personally, I haven’t played well down there, so I’ve got to play better,” center Roy Hibbert said. “We have to get over that hump by any means necessary.”
If the Hawks have learned anything about Indiana this season, it’s that anything is possible.
The Pacers took advantage of their inside game in the two wins and managed to hold off a late Hawks rally in March when Gerald Green made a surprising 3-pointer with 34 seconds left to extend a four-point lead to seven. Indiana heads into the postseason with the league’s best defensive field goal percentage (42.0), best defensive 3-point percentage (32.7) and the league’s second-best scoring defense (90.7 points).
Drew doesn’t expect those facets to change now.
“They’re going to do what they’ve been doing all year. They may tweak some things here and there. I think in the four games, I recall they switched it up and put Hibbert on Josh Smith some. They may come back with it. We’ll be prepared for it,” Drew said. “I don’t think they will deviate much from what they do. They’re a good team. They’re a solid team.”
What will be different this time?
Atlanta will be without the injured Zaza Pachulia (surgery on right Achilles tendon), who played 72 minutes in the two wins and not a second in the two losses to Indiana.
And while the Pacers again will be without Danny Granger, who has been sidelined almost all season with a left knee injury, they are still expected to start injured point guard George Hill. He sat out the end of practices Friday and Saturday with a left groin injury, though he did some post-practice shooting Saturday.
“It’s the playoffs now,” Hill said. “I’ve just got to keep a positive perspective, thinking that I’m 100 percent.”
Regardless, the most important thing may be how these match up now.
“They’re one of the more physical teams in the league,” Horford said. “When we play that way we’re very effective.”