In my series preview, I said that “the way to beat the Pacers is to hit them in the mouth at the start of the series.” When I said hit them in the mouth, I didn’t have 3-guard lineups, Kyle Korver guarding Paul George or the return of The Horford Treatment in mind. Watching DeShawn Stevenson go -20 in 44 minutes in the first two games was also not what I had in mind.
What I had in mind was Josh Smith, Al Horford and Jeff Teague playing at least 40 minutes per game and Devin Harris, Ivan Johnson and Korver playing at least 30. In Game 3, Horford and Harris played right at 40 minutes while Smith, Teague, Korver and Johnson all played close to 30.
The only other Hawks to see more than garbage minutes were Johan Petro, who started, played 14 minutes and contributed a respectable 6 points and 4 rebounds, and Anthony Tolliver, who has been a revelation in this series. Tolliver and Shelvin Mack are the only Hawks to post a positive +/- in all three games. Tolliver leads the team with an astounding aggregate +19 for the series. Whereas the Hawks are losing by double digits with Stevenson on the floor, the team is outscoring the Pacers by almost a point per minute with Tolliver on the floor.
After HawksHoop.com’s David Vertsberger astutely observed that Josh Smith, Al Horford and Ivan Johnson had yet to share the floor through Games 1 & 2, the three played as a front court for 10 minutes in this game. In the first half, this combination was +11. For the series, this combination is now +9.
Johnson was a game-high +21 in 27 minutes. He scored only seven points and collected seven rebounds, but his defense on Roy Hibbert and David West was, in a word, phenomenal. You will perhaps recall that West’s flagrant foul in transition on Al Horford was precipitated by a defensive possession by Johnson. For the game, the Hawks outscored the Pacers 55-32 with Johnson on the court and were outscored 35-37 with Johnson on the bench. To put it another way, the Hawks played losing basketball with Johnson on the bench but completely blew the Pacers out with Johnson on the floor.
Here’s a look at the total minutes, shooting percentage, rebounds, points and aggregate +/- for all reserves who have played at least 15 minutes in a game in this series except Kyle Korver, who has started two of three games:
Johnson 60 MIN, 9-18 (50%), 13 REB, 21 PTS, +9
Stevenson 44 MIN, 3-4 (75%), 9 REB, 9 PTS, -20
Petro 40 MIN, 8-11 (73%), 6 REB, 16 PTS, -8
Tolliver 21 MIN, 4-7 (57%), 2 REB, 12 PTS, +19
Meanwhile Smith is shooting a manageable 41% on fewer than six shots per game outside the paint in this series. Compare that to the 28% Smith shot on over nine shots per game outside the paint in last year’s Celtics series and it seems like Josh has really come to play.