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Getting Back Home, Back on Their Feet

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

April 30, 2013, 1:34 AM

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ATLANTA – As reporters invaded the Pacers' post-game locker room and sought out a warm body to question, they encountered a major barrier in front of Paul George's locker. Roy Hibbert, all 7-foot-2 of him, was stretched out flat on his back, his knees in the air, wrapped in ice bags, his left thumb attached to the bridge of his nose, staring to his left at nothing in particular.

Pondering.

He lay there for 10 minutes before he got up to take a seat and talk. What was he thinking about?

“This is going to be one heck of a series right now, I guess,” he said. “I thought [we'd] be able to at least split down here and we didn't. It's going to be one physical series.”

The best-of-seven series with Atlanta, which seemed so firmly within the Pacers' grasp just a few days ago is now down to a best-of-three scrum. Their 102-91 loss at Philips Arena on Monday evened it at 2-2, with Game 5 on Wednesday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Game 6 will be played back at Philips, their very own house of horrors. Game 7, if necessary, will be played at the Fieldhouse on Sunday.

There's no simple way to explain the Pacer's two losses in Atlanta, because there are too many reasons for them. They trailed by as many as 28 points before losing by 21 on Saturday, and trailed by 19 before getting back into the game on Monday. They shot poorly, defended inadequately and failed to make the plays they needed most in the final period.

Their losing streak at Philips now stands at 13. They don't seem spooked by the place, however. More likely it's the same issue that vexed them throughout the regular season, aside from that four-game Western road trip that ended on April 1: Winning on the road. More specifically, shooting well on the road.

They hit just 27 percent of their field goal attempts on Saturday and 38 percent on Monday. Add the drop-off from the defense that was as good as any in the NBA during the regular season, and they were destined to lose.

The box score revealed an evenly matched game in all areas but two. Atlanta hit four more three-pointers for 12 extra points that came in awfully handy, and attempted 13 more free throws. Had it not missed 13 of its 38 attempts, the score would have resembled Saturday's game.

“That's been our Achilles heel, playing well on the road,” George said. “It's nothing they did to get us out of how we play, we're just not getting it done on the road, simple as that.”

Why aren't they getting it done on the road?

“We just aren't making shots,” George said. “Whatever the reason is, we have to make shots on the road.”

And how does a team get itself to shoot better on the road?

“I think it's a mental thing,” he said. “We just need to slow down. It's the same distance (to the rim), it should be the same feeling. We have to get more shots and focus when we are getting shots.”

Kyle Korver knows all about the feeling of being home. The NBA's second-best three-point shooter during the regular season (.457) he hit just 4-of-13 shots in the two games in Indianapolis. He came back to hit 2-of-3 on Saturday and 5-of-8 on Monday on his way to 19 points off the bench.

Josh Smith, meanwhile, looks to have a favorable matchup against whomever guards him, as long as he's motivated. He scored 29 points despite missing seven foul shots, and grabbed 11 rebounds.

The Pacers collapsed in the second quarter, when they were outscored 35-19, and trailed by 17 at the half. They put together a 15-1 run in the third quarter to get within four points, and were within five four times in the fourth quarter. They couldn't make the plays to get closer, however. They trailed 86-81 after Lance Stephenson's layup with 4:06 left, and got the ball back after Smith missed a jumper, but George wound up with a forced three-pointer that missed. Moments later, trailing by six, Al Horford missed an off-balance driving shot, but Smith rebounded and kicked it out to Korver for a three-pointer. The Pacers got back within five again, but gave up a 20-footer to Horford. George followed with another missed three-pointer, which led to Smith's breakaway dunk that clinched the outcome.

So now it's back to Indianapolis, where they'll try to recapture the glory of Games 1 and 2, which they won by double-figure margins. That was before Atlanta went with its bigger lineup, bringing Korver off the bench, so another victory likely won't come as easily. Still, they have homecourt advantage for this best-of-three series they've gotten themselves into, a far better scenario than the alternative.

It's a matter of getting up off their backs and finding a way to get upright again.

“We win together, we lose together,” George Hill said. “We take this one on the chin and be a man about it and focus on Game 5.”

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