INDIANAPOLIS – It may be a new concept around the NBA: The Playoff-Tested Indiana Pacers.
But if you think about it, this makes sense.
After all this team has been to every round but the league Finals in the NBA, facing a number of situations that would qualify a squad to be considered as postseason veterans.
Maybe that’s an advantage the Pacers could have over the Hawks as their Best-of-Seven Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series now becomes a Best-of-Three after the teams split the first four games over the past week.
After all, the team is just 11 months removed from a seven-game series in the Eastern Conference Finals after two series wins to get there.
“I think our experience is definitely an advantage,” said head coach Frank Vogel on the eve of Monday night’s Game 5 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “Hopefully it plays out.”
Paul George, who has been a part of three series victories with the Pacers since joining the team in 2010, believes it could give the team an advantage moving forward against a Hawks team that hasn’t won a series since 2011.
“This team has been through almost every test that you can go through within a year and being previously battle-tested in previous playoff series,” said George. “We’re ready. We ready for the long games, the tough games, the grind-out games.
“We’re poised for a grind-out series.”
Yet at the same time the Pacers don’t want to assume anything when it comes to a Hawks team that has played well above its eighth seed so far in the playoffs.
“We hope so,” said forward David West when asked if experience could give the Pacers an advantage. “We know Atlanta’s going to keep fighting and come in here tomorrow with some adjustments. We’ve got to maintain our poise and look to make plays when they’re there to be made, have confidence, and knock down open shots.”
Preventing the Hawks from doing so may have prevented them from facing a 3-1 deficit in a series for the first time since 2011. Their play in the fourth quarter of Game Four was reminiscent of the squad at the beginning of the year that imposed its will on opponents. Down by six, the Pacers turned up the heat at the defensive end at Philips Arena.
In the final 4:37 of the game, Indiana kept Atlanta from hitting a field goal in completing the comeback for an 91-88 victory that brought the series back to even again. That included an impressive last-second stand to preserve the win in which the Pacers forced Pero Antic into an off-balance three-pointer that was well off the mark.
Guard Lance Stephenson said the team received a stern pep talk from Vogel before the game about their breakdowns during a Game 3 loss–and he thinks that may have sparked the team to play a little bit better on the defensive end.
“When I got in there I was like ‘What?'” said Stephenson of Vogel’s defensive critiquing of the team after shootaround before Game 4. “He was just balking on everybody, even if you had a decent game. He didn’t care. Even if he found something that you did wrong. I think we needed that. I think that got us angry and made us actually want to go out and go harder for him.”
While getting the Pacers a little bit more playoff experience to fall back on.