0

PREVIEW: Series even at 2-2, Atlanta heads back to Indiana

Hawks star Josh Smith, right, raises his hands in triumph as Pacers forward David West shows his dismay following Atlanta’s big win Monday night in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference playoff series.

Hawks star Josh Smith, right, raises his hands in triumph as Pacers forward David West shows his dismay following Atlanta’s big win Monday night in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference playoff series.

Want To Watch?

WHO: Atlanta Hawks at Indiana Pacers.

WHAT: Game 5 of Eastern Conference playoff series.

WHEN: 8 p.m. today.

WHERE: Indianapolis.

TV: NBA TV.

SERIES: Tied, 2-2.

GAME 6: Indiana at Atlanta on Friday; game time yet to be determined.

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Pacers have looked like two completely different teams based on the venue in their first-round series with the Atlanta Hawks.

The Pacers will try to regain the form that got them a 2-0 lead when the series returns to Indiana for Game 5 tonight. The Hawks were dominated physically in the first two contests but found their rhythm at home in back-to-back wins and will try to keep that aggression up on the road.

The Pacers averaged 110 points in a pair of easy wins at home in the first two games but slumped to an average of 80 points while losing two on the road. They put up a better effort in Game 4, keeping things within 10 points for most of the fourth quarter, but could not keep up with Josh Smith. Atlanta switched to a bigger lineup in Game 3 and kept it for Game 4, inserting center Johan Petro in the starting lineup and using Ivan Johnson off the bench to team with Smith and Al Horford.

It worked.

“That’s a great Atlanta team over there,” Indiana’s George Hill said. “We knew it wasn’t going to be an easy series. We knew they weren’t going to lie down. It’s always tough for us to play here. It’s good we have two more games on our home court if necessary.”

Indiana wishes the series could just stay in Indianapolis and not return to Atlanta, where the Pacers have now lost 13 straight dating back to last season.

On Monday, the Hawks hit 7 of 8 3-point shots in the second quarter and outscored the Pacers, 35-19. Atlanta led by as many as 19 points and went into the locker room at halftime with a 57-40 lead.

The game tightened in the third quarter when the Pacers stormed back on a 15-1 run to cut the Hawks’ lead to 65-61 at 4:08.

The Pacers outscored the Hawks, 22-12, in the third and began the final quarter down 69-62. Then the fouls started piling up as the exhausted players crashed into each other on nearly every play. That, at least, slowed the pace.

“Energy and effort,” Smith said. “If we play with those two words and play together, we’re a pretty good basketball team.”

They’ll find just how good tonight when Atlanta tries to win for the first time on the road in the series. Atlanta lost the first two by a combined 32 points.

ABOUT THE HAWKS: Atlanta looked like a good candidate to be swept out of the first round in after the opening two games but has brought a toughness in the last two that the Pacers have struggled to match. It was Horford taking over with 26 points and 16 rebounds in Game 3 and Smith doing the damage with 29 and 11 in Game 4. Those two staying strong on the offensive end is a key to dealing with Indiana’s front line. The only time the Hawks looked vulnerable in Game 4 was when Horford picked up a fourth foul and had to go to the bench for an extended period in the third quarter, allowing the Pacers to go on a 15-1 run and get back in the game. But instead of folding Atlanta picked itself back up and never surrendered the lead. “Energy and effort,” Smith said. “If we play with those two words and play together - I take that back, three words - we’re a pretty good basketball team.”

ABOUT THE PACERS: Indiana has the memory of how well it played at home in Games 1 and 2 to keep its spirits high. Paul George, who was the best player on the floor in the first two games before struggling against Atlanta’s new lineup in Game 3, found his game again in the second half of Game 4 and had 18 points and 10 rebounds after the break to finish with 21 and 12. Guard play was the biggest problem in each of the games in Atlanta, as the starting backcourt of Lance Stephenson and George Hill combined to go 10-of-39 in the two contests. Hill had been 14-for-22 in the first two games, including 7-of-11 from beyond the arc while Stephenson had scored 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting in Game 1 before taking a hard foul and being limited to 18 minutes in Game 2.