Pacers Ready for Next Test in Game 3

by Wheat_Hotchkiss | @Wheat_Hotchkiss

April 24, 2014 | 2:35 p.m.

ATLANTA – The Pacers passed their first test on Tuesday night. Tonight in Game 3, they face another (arguably bigger) exam.

There is no doubt that Indiana’s strong showing in the second half of Game 2 of their first round series against the Hawks was a big step in the right direction. The top-seeded Pacers trailed at halftime and found themselves dangerously close to heading to the Peach State in an 0-2 hole. With their backs against the wall, the Blue-and-Gold put together a dominant stretch of basketball, outscoring Atlanta 31-13 in the third quarter and rolling to a comfortable win.

With the momentum seemingly on their side, the Pacers’ next challenge is to string together multiple good performances, something they had trouble doing over the last month of the season.

The Pacers rebounded from a disappointing loss in Madison Square Garden with a convincing victory over the Bulls on Mar. 21, but then failed to reach 80 points in consecutive losses in Memphis and Chicago.

They beat the Heat in a nationally-televised showdown on Mar. 26, only to drop a pair of games in Washington and Cleveland.

They rolled past the Thunder in the final home game of the regular season on Apr. 13, but laid an egg just six days later in Game 1 against the Hawks.

Pacers forward Luis Scola, who scored 20 points in less than 20 minutes off the bench in Game 2, said that the team has had prolonged stretches where they have played good basketball – especially earlier in the year, but also “in stints” later in the season.

“I think we have played several good games in a row well,” Scola said. “We just had some tough losses that stand out more, and people – and (us) too – pay a lot of attention to those.”

When adversity strikes, it is natural to let negative thoughts creep into your head. Indiana’s emphasis in the past few days has been to tune out the negativity. Even while negative reports about the team’s chemistry surfaced the day after Game 2, the players have presented a unified front, talking about “brotherhood” and “togetherness.”

As for their March malaise, Pacers All-Star forward Paul George admitted that the team didn’t have the same mentality late in the regular season as they had earlier in the year, something that definitely played a part in the team’s late-season swoon.

“I thought when we were 33-7 to start the year off, we just carried an edge that we weren’t going to get beat and it was going to be tough, regardless of who was playing us,” George said. “And I think somewhere along the lines, we just lost that edge. That’s something we’re trying to get back.”

Head coach Frank Vogel seemed less concerned about getting anything back, maintaining that the team’s performance in Game 2 is proof that the Pacers are close to the level at which they were playing in the first half of the season

“You know, I don’t think we’re that far from where we were earlier in the season,” Vogel said. “I think we’re defending at a high level, we’re starting to move the basketball.“

The Pacers team that dominated the second half of Game 2 did indeed look like the same team that rocketed out to a 16-1 start. But to win the series, Indiana must win on the road, something they did not do at nearly the same rate in the second half of the year.

In fact, with the exception of a pair of games in the final week of the regular season when most or all of the starters did not play, the Pacers lost seven straight road contests and 10 of 12 away from Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

The last time the Pacers won on the road with Paul George, Lance Stephenson, and David West in the lineup was all the way back on Mar. 15, when they rallied from a 25-point deficit in Detroit to beat the Pistons in overtime. Andrew Bynum had 15 points and nine rebounds in that game – the last time he played before being sidelined indefinitely with a knee injury.

The Pacers’ road struggles did correspond with a difficult schedule, as eight of those 10 losses came to playoff teams. But this is the same Pacers team that started the year 9-2 away from home and had wins at the Clippers, Thunder, and Nets (twice) on their resume before Christmas.

Indiana has struggled historically in Atlanta, but they have righted that trend recently. After losing Games 3 and 4 at Philips Arena last postseason, the Pacers closed out the Hawks in Game 6. Indiana also won in Atlanta on Feb. 4, snapping a 12-game regular season losing streak in the ATL. Vogel jokingly noted at Wednesday’s practice that they also won in Atlanta during the preseason.

Make no mistake, the Pacers are well aware of how they’ve performed on the road. And they’re ready to turn things around.

“We played some bad games on the road, it’s true,” Scola said. “…We knew that if we want to win in the playoffs, we have to win on the road. We’ve been talking a lot about it, so I expect us to be ready to play today.”

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