With the series against Indiana starting at 1:00PM on Sunday, we decided to go 5-on-5 to preview the matchup, and of course, to give our predictions.
1. Which player on the Hawks is the most vital to winning this series?
Chris Barnewall: It will probably come down to Al Horford. At first I thought it might be Josh Smith, then I thought it might be Jeff Teague, but if the Hawks want any chance at beating the Pacers, Horford is going to have to be incredible. Horford will not only need to score on the best front line defense in the NBA, anchored by Roy Hibbert, but he will need to anchor the defense the way Hibbert does. Smith will have his hands full with David West shooting mid range jumpers, posting up, and attacking the basket. This will leave Horford to cover the spots that David West will spread.
Daniel Christian: Josh Smith. People love to talk about his erraticism and dub him an enigma, but the fact is he’s a relatively consistent and reliable player outside of shot selection and field goal percentage. He gives you great defense on the wing and help side every night, he creates for others in transition and in the half court, and is more often than not rebounding at a pretty high clip. Critics gloss over those facts en route to what seemingly is the bigger picture– a negligence to execute in the flow of the offense or a penchant for jacking mid-range jumpers. So long as Smith isn’t a detriment to the Hawks’ offensive movement (which he usually isn’t) and so long as he’s not killing possessions, the Hawks should be in every game. Smith can be incredible when he focuses on his strengths (i.e. scoring off cuts, drives (lefty hooks), and in transition) and is often a match-up problem for the opposing defense.
Bo Churney: Devin Harris. Being the playoffs, I believe the Hawks are going to get consistent efforts from Teague, Smith, and Horford. What the Hawks need, however, is a player that can do damage when these guys are sitting on the bench. If Devin can lead the Atlanta second unit to at least a draw against Indiana’s second unit, I really like the Hawks’ chances in this series.
Raj Prashad: Jeff Teague. Al Horford playing at a high level is almost a given. Josh Smith obviously needs to match up against David West and the tough Indiana Pacers defense. But we’ve seen thus far this year that even when Horford and Smith are tuned in, the Hawks offense can sputter if their point guard isn’t controlling the floor. Devin Harris can be sporadic at times, so Teague will need to be aggressive from the opening tip.
David Vertsberger: Jeff Teague. The Hawks offense can never stagnate in this series, and it’s primarily the point guard’s duty to keep an offense flowing. Enter a maturing Teague, who needs to be both the vocal and physical leader of this Hawks offense with one of the worst defenders of the Pacers’ starting five guarding him, George Hill.
2. Which player on the Pacers gives the Hawks the biggest matchup issue?
Barnewall: David West. I’m afraid of what David West is going to do to the Hawks. West is great at spreading the floor and attacking the basket. I imagine the player that will be covering West a lot will be Ivan Johnson. It’s not that Johnson isn’t a good defender; it’s that West is crafty enough on offense to really give Ivan problems. West is a player that if the Hawks can find a way to stop him, the chances of winning go up.
Christian: This is an interesting question because the Pacers’ greatest offensive strengths (front court and wing) are positions the Hawks can defend well with their starters. Obviously, without Pachulia, Hibbert becomes an incredibly difficult match up. So I’ll go with the Hibbert-Horford match up, mainly because I think Smith will be able to slow Paul George (he’s excellent at defending threes). Just another match up to consider is Jeff Teague guarding pretty much any point guard in a pick-n-roll, because that will end in either lazy defense or an attempted steal from behind as the opposition slips into the paint at will, causing a myriad of breakdowns throughout the remainder of the possession.
Churney: With Pachulia out, conventional wisdom would point to Roy Hibbert. However, looking back at the past games from this season, Al Horford absolutely destroyed Hibbert when he was matched up with him. In a pinch, I believe that Ivan Johnson’s strength could also match up with Hibbert. However, David West has absolutely killed the Hawks this season with his combination of skill and toughness, which are the sort of things that can get Josh Smith frustrated on both ends of the floor. If Larry Drew decides to put Johan Petro in the rotation, though, I would go for Hibbert. (DON’T DO IT, LARRY)
Prashad: Paul George. He’s a stifling defender who leads his team in scoring. With Horford and Smith tied up with their own match ups, Atlanta will most likely be relying on the likes of Kyle Korver and Dahntay Jones to keep the forward in check.
Vertsberger: Roy Hibbert. With Zaza Pachulia out, size is a key issue, and as capable of a defender Horford is, there’s always the possibility of getting called for a couple of early fouls and having him sent off the floor. Leaving no viable option to guard the imposing Hibbert, who after a bad start has played terrific ball later in the year. Continue Reading…