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Pacers Taking on Hawks, Human Nature

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

April 24, 2013, 9:45 AM

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Sunday's 107-90 victory was a romp once that 6-0 deficit was swept out of the way, so what could possibly worry the Pacers heading into Game 2 of their playoff series with Atlanta tonight?

Themselves, more than anything.

Indiana looked decidedly superior to the Hawks in Game 1, to the point their chemistry and concern were called into question. Strategic adjustments will be made for Game 2, of course, and Atlanta's coach, Larry Drew, has sounded the alarm for more effort. Mostly, however, it will be up to the Pacers to replicate Sunday's degree of intensity as frequently as possible in the series. In other words, avoid the sloe-eyed monster of complacency.

“(We) just have to understand that Game 2 is going to be much harder,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “The biggest adjustments in a playoff series come between Game 1 and Game 2. We have to expect a very, very different game and try to be efficient anyway.”

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Vogel's players all insist they have forgotten Game 1 and are planning to bring the same intensity to the proceedings of Game 2. What else would they say? The proof will be in the performance, but their words have rung with sincerity. A victory as convincing as Sunday's seems highly unlikely, but a loss would immediately swing the series advantage to the Hawks and send everyone to Atlanta, where the Pacers have lost 11 straight games.

“We know Game 2 is going to be night and day as far as Game 1 and Game 2,” Paul George said. “I know their coach is going to be on them about coming out and playing with a better effort. We have to throw Game 1 out. It's like starting from scratch for us.”

A mound of of cliches warn of the challenge facing the Pacers tonight. Water finds its level. Things even out in the long run. What goes up must come down. The law of averages, and all that.

The Pacers' history offers a warning, too. Think back to some of the greatest highlights in the franchise's postseason history, and then recall what happened afterward.

Reggie Miller's 25-point fourth quarter to win Game 5 of the playoff series with New York in 1994? It gave the Pacers a 3-2 lead, but they lost the next game in Market Square Arena, and then Game 7 as well.

Miller's eight-point-in-8.9-second cloudburst the following year in Game 1 of the series with the Knicks? The Pacers lost Game 2 by 19 points.

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The 10-foot buzzer-beater Rik Smits hit after faking Orlando's Tree Rollins in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals in 1994? The three-pointer Reggie Miller hit with 0.7 on the clock in Game 4 of the conference finals in 1998? In both instances, the Pacers lost the next game.

Rather than being unique to the Pacers, it's a universal battle against human nature that challenges all teams. It's difficult to measure this season's version of Pacers against the challenge. It's two biggest home victories were those over Miami, and it won the next game each time. It did, however, follow up its back-to-back streak with two home overtime losses, but fatigue could have been a legitimate factor in that case. It also followed up its four-game Western road trip sweep with five losses in its last six games, but end-of-season boredom and fatigue were factors there.

Tonight's game will be revealing. How will they follow up a dominating victory on their home court over a lower-seeded team?

“Our resolve has to be the same,” said David West, the most consistent Pacers player. “Come out focused on defense, try to get get good shots every time down the floor, don't turn the ball over and get out in transition.”

The greatest individual challenge belongs to Paul George. He's coming off a triple-double in Sunday's victory, just the second in the franchise's NBA history, and he won the league's Most Improved Player award on Tuesday. So what's next for the 22-year-old?

He's flatly stated his intention to bring the same high level of aggressiveness as he did on Sunday, when he drew enough fouls to shoot 18 free throws, and is in fact prepared to play that way as long as the postseason lasts. He's taken the precautions of being more watchful of his diet and taking ice baths to keep his legs fresh, but mostly it's about his mindset.

“I want to outdo myself from Game 1,” he said.

Does that mean we'll see a quadruple-double in Game 2?

“It's possible,” he said, with only a hint of a smile.

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