Scott Agness headshot

Notebook: Best of Three, Vogel Speaks Up, Guarding the 3-ball

by Scott Agness | @ScottAgness

April 27

Four games have been played in the Pacers’ First Round series against the Atlanta Hawks, yet heading into Monday’s Game 5 it’s like it all starts over.

Game Preview: Pacers vs Hawks, Game 5

With each team victorious in two games, once at each venue, the Pacers — and likely Hawks, too — are viewing it now as a best-of-three series. Home-court advantage, which the Pacers so desired, is theirs but that doesn’t mean they can let up. One of the team’s struggles this season continues to be their handling of success.

When they’ve been up against it, desperate, as multiple players put it, they’ve played with an edge and determination needed every game.

“We just got to stay just as hungry,” said Pacers coach Frank Vogel after a Sunday afternoon practice that focused on offensive cleanups and shooting.

“We’re back with the home-court advantage,” Paul George said. “We can’t get complacent with that. We got to be able to put this series away. This is a tough team and a team that’s going to play ‘til the end.

“We just can’t get too high. … We got a great win in Atlanta. This series has been all about adjustments so I know their coach is going to make another adjustment. We got to be able to counter it.”

All indications are that Vogel will stick to what’s working lineup-wise: start the usual five, but end the game with a smaller group that features David West and Luis Scola in the frontcourt. Roy Hibbert, the Pacers’ anchor on defense who has notoriously struggled over the last few months, hasn’t seen the court in the final quarter of the previous three games.

The Pacers thrive off their defense. When they are getting stops, forcing turnovers and running and transition, they are clearly a much better team. In Game 4, they helped trigger 14 steals and tallied 19 fast-break points, a series high.

Indiana has also improved on its defensive play without fouling. Coach Vogel appreciated the game not being officiated as tight, as that favors their smashmouth style. After attempting 37 free throws in Game 3, the Hawks shot just 17 in Game 4 — and they hit every one. The key for the Pacers is also to get out and guard the 3-point line while also limiting the number of open looks.

“These are the kind of games that we’re used to,” George added. “We’ve always been used to grinding out games and making the games ugly. That’s what we’re going to have to do to end this series.”

The Pacers are back home in the comforts of their own arena, and bed, with the thought of taking care of business. Vogel emphasized to his team that the first team to win two games in a row usually takes the series.

“We have an opportunity to do that, so that’s our focus (Monday) night,” he said.

Added Lance Stephenson: “Right now, I feel like it’s zero-zero — the first to three. I feel like we got the guys that can do it and we just got to show it in our hearts."

An Unusual Vogel

As the Pacers sat in their chairs at their Atlanta hotel for a film session on Friday, the day before Game 4, they experienced something for the first time. Coach Vogel let them hear it, every single one of them.

“He was fired up,” George recalled. “And he’s always fired up but this was a different kind of fire. That’s the best word I could say. He was fired up. He was real fired up.”

It was clear something was up when the team was more than an hour late to practice. It wasn’t normal for Vogel to vocally tear at the guys, but they appreciated it.

“When I got in there,” said Stephenson, “I was like, ‘What!’ He was just barking on everybody. Even if you had a decent game, he didn’t care. 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.”

Before, Vogel has acknowledged that part of a coach’s duty is to know when to mix things up, or “change the game,” as he put it last year. That was when the team got down big at home to Cleveland, so he got himself ejected to “change the game.” It worked Saturday, just as it did back then.

When I asked Vogel if that was the loudest he’s ever gotten in his three-plus seasons as head coach, he paused to think, then said with a grin, “Possibly. One of the loudest.”

So, did he sense that was what the team needed at that point?

“Yes, precisely.”

Guarding the 3-ball

One of the Pacers’ biggest challenges in the series is guarding against Atlanta’s hot shooting. All five of their starters can hit from deep, which has caused Indiana to make adjustments, as touched on above.

The Hawks have fired off at least 29 3-pointer in all four games and are hitting at a 35.5 percent clip. Korver, the league’s most accurate 3-point shooter during the regular season, is the No. 1 guy the Pacers must contain.

“We got to try to limit his attempts,” said Vogel. “That’s the whole plan with Kyle Korver. It’s not good enough to contest him.”

Communication and active hands are especially crucial in defending the arc. Successful or not, the Pacers know that the Hawks are going to keep launching them.

When the Hawks do convert off-balanced or forced shots, like we saw from at the end of Game 3 from Jeff Teague, George says it’s easy to get frustrated.

“It is because some of the 3-pointers they shoot are well-guarded and they’re making them,” he said. “It does discourage you a little bit. You’re working so hard and they drill a 3-pointer in your face. It’s a blow. It’s a real blow to the stomach.”

The Pacers defended the line superbly to end Game 4. George Hill hovered on Kyle Korver, thus forcing the Hawks to go with another option. Center Pero Antic received the ball and let it fly from 27-feet, and it wasn’t even close. That, on the other hand, is rewarding.

West’s Rare Triple

West perhaps caught fans by surprise he lofted up a shot from the left arc at a critical moment in Saturday’s win. After stealing the ball on defense, he got it back from Hill and took advantage of the moment.

“We had to get a shot attempt on that possession,” West explained. “We were trying to get the ball down to Paul [George] because he had [Jeff] Teague on him in the post. They helped, and sunk down off of me so at that moment, we were just trying to get a good look, a good shot up on the rim.”

That was West’s fifth made 3-pointer of the season and just the second of his playoff career. His first one occurred more than six years ago — April 22, 2008 — back to when he played for the New Orleans Hornets.

Game 5 Tickets »
Secure seats for Round 1, Home Game 3 on Monday, April 28 at 8:00 p.m.

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Indiana Pacers. All opinions expressed by Scott Agness are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Indiana Pacers, their partners, or sponsors.