by Leo Sepkowitz | @LeoSepkowitz
The Pacers ranked first in opponent field-goal percentage and opponent three-point percentage, and second in points allowed per game this year. They were also in the top-five in offensive and defensive rebounding, leading to a +5 nightly boards differential—best in the League.
This certainly doesn’t seem like an ideal matchup for a Hawks club which averaged a middle-of-the-pack 98 points while getting outrebounded by nearly three boards per game this season.
Indiana closed the season by dropping five of its final six games. Not exactly the positive momentum teams search for before the Playoffs, but Atlanta isn’t thriving right now, either. They’re 2-5 in their last seven. Nothing like a Playoff battle between two cold teams with average offenses!
The two squads got about the same production off the bench this year (16.3 points per game from Atlanta’s reserves, 15.9 for Indiana’s), so this series is all about the starters. Besides, when the Playoffs roll around, your best players log big minutes. Let’s get to it.
Point Guard: George Hill vs Jeff Teague
Teague took a pretty big step forward this season—mainly in assists, where he increased from 4.9 (third-guard range) to 7.2 nightly (12th in the NBA). They needed him to be better when they shipped Joe Johnson away, and they really needed him to be better when Lou Williams went down. He answered the call.
Hill is more of a combo-guard who technically plays point guard. He averaged only 4.7 assists, but Indiana doesn’t need a point guard who dominates the ball. He fits the Pacers’ system beautifully and either Lance Stephenson or DJ Augustin can play point for a few minutes if needed.
Shooting Guard: Lance Stephenson vs Devin Harris
Not exactly a marquee 2-guard matchup, but an important one nonetheless. At first glance, these guys’ numbers look nearly identical. Both guards averaged around 10 points per game with a few assists and rebounds.
This matchup is my sleeper for “On Paper Wash, In Reality Big Difference-Maker.” Harris’ games are pretty much predetermined—he’ll score between 8 and 15 points, tally a few assists and probably not make an impact on the glass or defensively. But Stephenson is a different story. He fires up the Pacers fans and the team itself when he plays well. He’s capable of crashing the glass and playing lockdown defense. He can be a disruptive force, and I think that’ll show in the postseason.
Advantage: Pacers (slightly)
Small Forward: Paul George vs Kyle Korver
Here’s where the series swings. Korver is a solid player, slightly better than most probably think. He knocked down 2.6 threes per game on a ridiculous 46 percent while playing over 30 minutes per night on a Playoff team this season. Then there’s George.
Paul George took massive strides toward stardom in his third season. His first two screamed “massive potential,” and he finally put it all together for a full season this year. He stepped up in place of Danny Granger and did everything Granger does offensively (17.5 points, 2.2 threes) while playing unbelievable defense (1.8 steals and 0.6 blocks don’t even do his defensive ability justice). He went from a D-and-corner-threes guy to an offensive focal point in a year, and the Pacers were better for it.
Advantage: Pacers (in a big, big, big, big way)
Power Forward: David West vs Josh Smith
This is where things get really interesting. These guys’ main numbers are pretty similar—17+ points, 7.5+ boards, 3+ assists and 45+ percent from the floor. Smith’s stats are better—and that gets very clear when you factor in blocks and steals—but if I need to win one game, I’m taking West.
West has a sweet post-game, lethal mid-range jumper and he’s a leader on a young team. Smith has struggled with his identity for years. After shooting 26 percent from deep last season, he attempted 201 threes this year—49 more than any other season of his career. J-Smoove is seemingly exactly as good now as he was five years ago. Bizarre for a guy who everyone keeps waiting to really take off.
Meanwhile, West has elevated his game from a Brandon Bass-type guy last year to a Brook Lopez-type player this season. He never tries to do too much in the Pacers offense, but is always there when you need him. I can’t say the same for his counterpart, but Smith’s D makes him hard to bet against.
Center: Roy Hibbert vs Al Horford
Nice offense-defense battle here. Hibbert’s a gifted defensive big man, reflected by his 2.7 rejections in under 29 minutes per night this year. Meahwhile, Horford had a career year in ’12-13, averaging 17.5 points on over 54 percent shooting. He’s about as good of a rebounder as Hibbert (2 more boards in 8 more minutes nightly), but isn’t as intimidating as Hibbert on defense.
I like Horford a little more, so he gets the edge, but Hibbert’s defensive prowess will be a big problem for a Hawks team whose two best players are big men.
Advantage: Atlanta (slightly)
Prediction: I don’t think Atlanta will be able to get necessary buckets in crunch time, and definitely can’t win in Indiana, where the Pacers went 30-11.
Pacers Win 4-1.