The Pacers won 56 games this season and reached their goal of earning the top playoff spot in the NBA Eastern Conference. But Thursday night in Atlanta (7:00 p.m. Fox Sports Indiana), the Pacers face the possible end of this promising season much sooner than they hoped. A game six loss to the Hawks would eliminate the Pacers in the first round.
Pacers head coach Frank Vogel is not sharing lineup or strategy changes for game six. Obviously, the Pacers can't give up 15 three-pointers like they did in game five, when the Hawks shot 50% overall. The Hawks have attempted no less than 27 three-pointers in every game in the series.
"We've got to guard the paint first,” said Vogel. “We've got to keep them off the free throw line. And then we've got to get to the shooters a step sooner than we've been."
The Hawks spread offense has challenged the Pacers. Facing elimination from the playoffs is a bigger problem.
"We don't have any margin, which usually leads to tension and leads to more mistakes,” said Pacers forward Luis Scola. “But we can't think that way. We just have to approach the game the way it is. Win or go home. Play with the all the energy in the world and all the focus in the world and then good things will happen."
No team has won two games in a row in the series. It’s still likely that the team that does will win the series as well. The Pacers hope the home court advantage they earned in the regular season will be a factor. But there won't be a game seven in Indianapolis Saturday if the Pacers don't win game six in Atlanta Thursday.
"If we lose, we're out, so you've got to bring everything,” said Pacers guard Lance Stephenson. “If you've got to bleed or break something, you've got to go all out. That's what I'm bringing."
The Pacers have never come back to win a best-of-seven playoff series after trailing three games to two (0-for-10 all-time).No-name Hawks getting it done
Stumped? You're not alone.
Despite a lack of recognizable players beyond All-Star forward Paul Millsap, talented young point guard Jeff Teague and perhaps 3-point specialist Kyle Korver, the Hawks have shown just how far hard work, intelligence and a steadfast belief in their system can carry a team.
Eighth-seeded Atlanta has a 3-2 lead against the top-seeded Indiana Pacers and can complete a stunning upset by winning at home Thursday night.
The Hawks finished 18 games behind Indiana during the regular season but have thoroughly controlled the postseason series, building double-digit leads in all five games. Atlanta is coming off an especially impressive performance in Game 5, building a 30-point lead on the road and holding on for a 107-97 triumph.
(The Associated Press contributed to this story.)