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Pacers Look to Take Command

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

April 27, 2013

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ATLANTA – The history of the NBA playoffs is clear on one point more than any other. Whenever a team has fallen behind 3-0 in a seven-game series, it has lost. Every single time.

That's why the Pacers are expecting the best Atlanta has to offer in Game 3 of their first-round playoff series at Philips Arena tonight. Their 2-0 advantage, earned with decisive victories at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, has put them on the brink of virtually – but not literally – locking up the series with a victory tonight.

On the other hand, an Atlanta victory revitalizes a team that seemed out of sorts in Indianapolis.

“This is the pivotal game,” Paul George said following the Pacers' shootaround Saturday morning. “It's an important game right here, because things change. They can get confidence off a win tonight. We really have to step on their throats tonight.”

The Hawks, meanwhile, will be trying to avoid putting themselves in a desperate position.

“There's definitely a sense of urgency,” Al Horford said after the Hawks shootaround, allowing himself a slight laugh at his understatement. “You don't have to tell me the percentage. Yeah, for us this is it.”

The Pacers would join the Knicks and Spurs in the rarified air of a 3-0 advantage with a victory tonight, and would set themselves up to sweep a seven-game series for just the third time in the franchise's NBA history. But they're making it a point not to think that far ahead.

“This is going to be the toughest game of the series,” David West said. “They're going to play with a level of desperation. We know they're going to try to protect their home floor.”

The Pacers finished ahead of Atlanta in the regular season and were dominant in the two games in Indianapolis, so the evidence is there to support the argument for their superiority. That means Atlanta's best hope for winning tonight is to play with an energy level founded on desperatation.

“I expect to see a totally different team than what we saw the first two games,” Jeff Pendergraph said. “We're in their place, and they want to defend homecourt and take care of business like we did. We should expect ... stuff we haven't even seen yet. Their fighting for their playoff life right now.”

What streak?

The counterpoint to the Pacers' 2-0 edge in the series is their 11-game losing streak in Atlanta. Their last victory here was Dec. 22, 2006, in Danny Granger's rookie season. Neither team has brought up that detail much, although it was mentioned in the Pacers' team meeting Saturday morning.

Neither side considers it that relevant to this series.

“It's basically a new season.” Horford said. “We just have to come out here and hold serve. You don't really think about it.”

Defense needs improvement

The Pacers led the NBA in defensive field goal percentage during the regular season, allowing opponents to hit just 42 percent of their shots. Atlanta has hit 50 percent, rounded up, in the first two games.

The Hawks ranked seventh in field goal percentage during the regular season, so they're not an easy out. The Pacers plan to drop their percentage a couple of ways, however, starting with contesting shots more aggressively.

“I still don't think we've played great defensively the first two games,” West said. “We can ratchet it up a little bit.

“We just have to continue to lock in on what they're doing, force them to shoot contested twos and stay within the concept of what we normally do.”

The other way is to slow Atlanta's transition. It outscored the Pacers 31-18 in fastbreak points over the first two games. The challenge becomes greater on Atlanta's homecourt.

“Here at home we look to push the ball more, be more aggressive,” Horford said. “We have to be better in transition.

“We've been playing their style of ball.”

Pendergraph peaking

Jeff Pendergraph showed significant improvement during the regular season, averaging a career-high 3.7 points after getting increased playing time late. He also showed great improvement from the first to the second game of this series.

After a nervous outing on Sunday, when he hit just 1-of-5 shots and committed three fouls in 14 minutes, he came back and contributed eight points and seven rebounds in 15 minutes on Wednesday.

“Totally different,” he said of the difference between the games. “After I got those first-game jitters out of the way, the second game I felt totally different.”

It's a good time for Pendergraph to be playing well. He becomes a free agent at the end of the season .

Stephenson OK

The Pacers are healthy for tonight's game, according to coach Frank Vogel. Lance Stephenson, who bruised his hip while taking a hard fall in Wednesday's game, had an ice bag tucked inside the back of his practice shorts following the morning practice, but did not appear restricted.

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