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West Points Pacers in New Direction

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

May 2, 2013, 1:48 AM

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The clinic would come later, but first David West had a mission to fulfill.

On the Pacers' initial possession of Wednesday's pivotal playoff game with Atlanta, he caught the ball on the perimeter and drove it hard to the basket for their first points. On their third possession, he caught the ball and quickly turned and scored on a 10-foot jump hook. It was all part of the plan he had announced following practice the previous day, when he said he needed to “get going a little earlier,” rather than deferring to his teammates.

Thus, the Pacers' most consistent and strong-willed player set the tone for their 106-83 victory over Atlanta at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, preserving their home court advantage and re-igniting hope for clinching the best-of-seven series on Friday in Atlanta. In a game that featured some successful strategic maneuvering from the Pacers' coaching staff, the biggest factor in their panic-preventing performance was their oldest player, the old standby, West. Mr. West, to the Hawks.

Those first two trend-setting baskets turned out to be his only points of the first quarter. It was the second period when he delivered the artwork. He scored 12 points, all in one perfect four-minute stretch when he hit every shot and carried the Pacers from a 31-28 deficit to a lead they never lost. D.J. Augustin's technical free throw off a defensive three seconds call was the only non-West point of that spree.

Someone could isolate West's half-dozen baskets and make an instructional video out of it. He scored on (1) a left-handed layup through traffic, (2) a leaning right-handed layup after his defender Ivan Johnson fell down in an attempt to draw a charge, (3) a 17-foot jumper, (4) a 19-footer, (5) a left-handed running bank shot from five feet, and (6) and another banked jump shot from 12 feet.

Left handed, right handed, driving layups, hooks, jump shots, off the backboard and straight through the net … it was the total package for a power forward. By the time he was through the Pacers led 41-35. He then had forced a jump ball with Al Horford and controlled the tip on the defensive end, setting up Roy Hibbert's two foul shots that increased the lead to eight. The Pacers never led by fewer than six points in the second half, and led by a double-figure margin from the 9:44 mark of the third quarter forward.

“I just wanted to come out and be aggressive, take a couple of jump shots,” West said. “We watched the film and saw that I hadn't been shooting many shots outside of 12 feet. (I was) trying to force it and press too much … so I took a couple of early ones. I thought it got the guys going. Guys were able to rebound in rhythm.”

West's fundamental approach seemed to settle the Pacers in their halfcourt offense, and reduce their turnovers. They had eight in the first quarter, but just nine over the final three. His accurate shooting also neutralized one of the Hawks' primary advantages, their transition offense. They scored just 10 fastbreak points, four more than the Pacers.

“We're at our best when he's going like he was going,” coach Frank Vogel said. “We talked yesterday about how to get him some better looks and he kind of waved me off and said, 'Don't worry about me, I'll be fine.' I didn't have a lot of doubt he was going to have a big game.”

Wednesday's game was typical of how the Pacers usually play when they play well: balanced. All five starters played between 33 minutes, 50 seconds (Paul George) and 38 minutes, 10 seconds (Lance Stephenson), and all scored in double figures except for Stephenson, who had eight points, a game-high 12 rebounds and four assists.

Defensively, the Pacers allowed the Hawks to hit just one-third of their shots, including 3-of-14 three-pointers. Lineup changes helped, but the homecourt advantage seemed to help more. Atlanta had hit 50 percent from the field in the Pacers' victories in Games 1 and 2, but struggled to score in this game despite hitting 30 foul shots and committing just six turnovers.

“This is the first time I've felt we were able to play legitimate defense in the series,” West said. “Everybody who came in stayed with the game plan in terms of being aggressive. Our hands were active. We just made plays on the defensive end.”

And so it's back to Atlanta, where as the world knows by now, the Pacers have lost 13 consecutive games. Perhaps they found a formula in this game they can take on the road with them. They may need to, because if they win Friday and the Knicks beat the Celtics, they will fly from Atlanta to New York to open a second-round series on Sunday. As the message written on the white board in the locker room warned, “Need to pack for 6 days.”

In an uncertain time for the Pacers, their most reliable player will need to continue stepping forward.

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