Atlanta has had more of an uptempo offense all season long, while the Pacers are a very good defensive team that ranked second in the league in points allowed this season. The contrasting styles of play made for a very interesting regular-season series, and should also make for a fascinating playoff series.
Here is a full breakdown of the first-round matchup between the Indiana Pacers and the Atlanta Hawks.
What You Need To Know
Seeds: Atlanta Hawks No. 6; Indiana Pacers No. 3
Records: Atlanta Hawks 44-38; Indiana Pacers 49-32
Season series: Tied 2-2
Playoff schedule: Game 1 Sunday, April 21, 1 p.m. ET (TNT), Game 2 Wednesday, April 24, 7:30 p.m. ET (NBA TV), Game 3 Saturday, April 27, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN), Game 4 Monday, April 29 TBD, Game 5 Wednesday, May 1 TBD, Game 6 Friday, May 3 TBD, Game 7, Sunday May 5 TBD
Biggest Key For The Pacers: Paul George
For a team that focuses so hard on the defensive side of the ball, Paul George is a great player to have because he can provide a lot of scoring for when the rest of the team is struggling. Things will be difficult for George against Atlanta, though.
The Atlanta forwards are tough, and George will likely draw the toughest task, being paired against Josh Smith.
George showed an ability to explode offensively at times this season, including a game in which he scored 29 points against Atlanta. The key for George to have success, though, will lie in his ability to step up big on the road.
The Indiana forward averaged almost 20 points per game at home this season while shooting just under 45 percent from the floor, while on the road he averaged 15.6 points per game and shot the ball at 39 percent from the floor.
The Pacers have been very good at home this year and should not have too much trouble at home in this series. If that is the case, and George can step up and deliver at least one big game on the road, it is very hard to see Indiana getting knocked out by Atlanta.
Biggest Key For The Pacers: Al Horford
The Pacers are the No. 1 rebounding team in the NBA entering into the playoffs, and this will likely play a huge factor in the outcome of this series. One guy who can slow Indiana's rebounding down, though, is Atlanta center Al Horford.
Horford averaged 10.2 rebounds per game this season for the Hawks, but he will face one of his toughest tests of the year against the 7'2'' Roy Hibbert.
Hibbert failed to slow down Horford much, though, in each of the four meetings that the Hawks and Pacers had this season. The 6'10'' center for the Hawks is averaging 16 points and nearly eight rebounds against the Pacers this season, and he will be another essential part for them in this series.
If Horford can produce a few big games and neutralize Hibbert as best as he can early on in this series, Atlanta would have a chance to build up some early confidence in their opening series.
Key Matchup: Roy Hibbert vs. Al Horford
Sorry to be redundant by mentioning Al Horford again, but the key matchup of this series will be the battle on the glass between Hibbert and Horford.
Although Hibbert is four inches taller than Horford, the Atlanta center is averaging two rebounds more per game than Hibbert is. Whichever one of these players is able to establish themselves down low in the post and on the glass early on in this series will have a major advantage.
It is incredibly important for Atlanta to make sure they are the team to get that fast start since they will be facing a very tough environment on the road in the first two games and need to make sure they can capture at least one road win before the head back home for the next part of the series.
In four meetings this season, the Pacers and Hawks split the season series at two games a piece. Each team played two games at home, and each team won both their home games. Therefore, the winner of this series will be the team who gets the first breakthrough on the road.
Indiana opens up at home, which gives Atlanta the first crack at getting a big road win, but with a road record of 19-22, there is not much hope that Atlanta will be able to steal a game on the road.
Look for Indiana to take care of things on their home floor and also to pick up a huge road win on their first trip to Atlanta. This series should be entertaining while it lasts, but the way Indiana has played at home the last year gives indication that it will not be lasting for a very long time.
Pacers In Five Games