INDIANAPOLIS – When it comes to the NBA playoffs, matchups matter.
Atlanta likes to run. Indiana gets physical. Paul George will try to attack. Kyle Korver might be content to knock down three-pointers.
Both teams know whats 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 weve 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, weve got bigs that can space it out and shoot it, so we balance it.
Atlanta (44-38) 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 made just 4 of 19 shots from the field and scored only nine points in the final 12 minutes as Korver and Teague, an Indianapolis 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.
Weve 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. Weve got Plan As, Plan Bs and Plan Cs.
Vogel, of course, wouldnt 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 havent played well down there, so Ive got to play better, center Roy Hibbert said. We have to get over that hump by any means necessary.
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.
Its the playoffs now, Hill said. Ive just got to keep a positive perspective, thinking that Im 100 percent.
Regardless, the most important thing may be how these match up now.
Theyre one of the more physical teams in the league, Horford said. When we play that way were very effective.