INDIANAPOLIS – Not that one might have expected a different answer, but David West was quick to answer positively when it came to the state of his team on Sunday.
“Fine,” said the Pacers forward when asked about his teammate’s mood after a Saturday evening to forget.
Some will choose to believe that rhetoric. Some will not. The latter may be more common because of the team’s struggles during the final month of the season. But whatever those on the outside may conclude about the team, Frank Vogel says the team now proceeds to Game 2 with faith in themselves going forward.
“Pretty upbeat,” said Vogel of the team. “Look, we understand the threat. This (Atlanta) is a good basketball team we’re playing. They’re capable of beating us but I think we’re still very confident.”
A little frustrated? Sure, that’s there too.
“We’re upset, hungry, hurt,” said Roy Hibbert after Saturday’s Game 1. “But we’re ready to go out there and compete.”
First and foremost, they’ve got to do so in a way that helps to slow down Atlanta’s spread-em-out offense. In particular guard Jeff Teague, who has made the Pacers’ strong defense look pedestrian in his last two contests in Indianapolis. After scoring 25 points in a 19-point win over the Pacers on April 6 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the Indianapolis native one-upped his performance by scoring 28 points from a variety of positions on the floor.
Teague scored 14 points in the third quarter on Saturday which saw a tight Game 1 turn into a blowout as the Pacers could find no way to contain him.
“You’ve got to keep him out of the paint–and that’s easier said than done,” admitted Vogel of stopping Teague. “We struggled to do it the last night and the last time we played these guys. He’s playing at a really high level and at the level he’s playing at he’s going to be tough to keep out of the paint, but we’ve got to get it done.”
Could Paul George be the man to do that? Both the forward and Vogel said that’s a possibility at some point in the series, yet it seems unlikely that the job of stopping Teague would fall on just one person.
“Just give him different looks. It’s not on the person that’s guarding him, it’s the guys that’s behind him,” said George. “We’ve got to do a better job of being in our gaps, being in a help spot because he’s a load. I said it yesterday, he’s got that elite speed and it’s tough for one guy to be able to contain him.”
Vogel and Hibbert even hinted at more changes beyond putting George on him to stop Teague along with fixing other holes that were exposed in Game 1 though neither would go into specifics. One thing that number of players would vouch for is that the Game 1 performance was not a continuation of their late-season slide, but rather an issue all on its own.
“Played a little bit too much one-on-ones. I thought we panicked a little bit, guys tried to do it themselves,” said West when asked specifically if Saturday’s loss was a carryover in any way from the last two months of the season. “We’ve just got to stay within ourselves.”
Keeping Teague outside of the paint might help, too.