Pretty much all the signs are there, even if you don’t want to admit them/see them:
1. The Hawks won Game 1 of their series vs. the Pacers (the top overall seed in the Eastern Conference), and it wasn’t like it was a true nailbiter: they won in Indiana, and they won by eight.
2. The last time the Pacers made the second round in consecutive years was ’03-’04 into ’04-’05.
3. Since 2006, the Pacers have won twice in Atlanta.
4. Since March 1, the Pacers are 13-13; the Hawks are 13-13 in the same span, but have only lost twice since April 8.
5. The Pacers were doing nothing on rotations in Game 1, essentially letting Jeff Teague — 16.5 PPG in the regular season — hang 28 points (almost double the season average), and letting Teague and others work the paint to the extent that the new narrative is “bench Roy Hibbert, or reduce his minutes, for the rest of this series.”
This is all predictable in some sense, because as noted above, the Pacers have played questionable basketball for the last two, two-and-a-half months. That said, though, after last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, the conventional logic was Pacers-Heat Round II, and with the Pacers having home-court advantage, things might be different. The Hawks, on the other hand, opened the year with a Mike Budzenholer DUI arrest, lost Al Horford for the entire postseason, and back-doored into the playoffs over a team the NBA would probably rather have there (the Knicks), who have a bigger market and a more definable star. And guess what? They have a real shot. Because of the Pacers’ struggles late in the season, it’s not quite as dramatic as this:
… but it could be pretty dramatic.
Now to Jeff Teague for a second. He went 19th overall in his NBA Draft year — the Pacers could have taken him at No. 13 — and honestly, the first four-five years of his professional career were fairly non-descript. He almost went to Milwaukee — the current worst team in the NBA — last off-season, but he stuck around and started thriving in Budzenholer’s system, which makes sense, considering Budzenholer is a long-time San Antonio Spurs guy, and that’s the same system where Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili became essentially recurrent MVP candidates. Paul Millsap, who had 25 points for the Hawks in Game 1, was a No. 47 overall pick (I loved that dude in college) who often runs different screens and rolls with Teague. You see similar offenses in late-1990s Utah or mid-2000s San Antonio; those types of systems can upset even 55+ win top seeds because they can take them out of their game. (Some have argued that Horford being hurt actually helps Atlanta in this series, because his replacements will tend to drag Hibbert away from the paint.)
Teague only scored more than 28 four times this season; his season high was 34 against the Raptors (another playoff team!) back in March.
If the Hawks do get by in this series — and admittedly, that’s still an “if” — they’d draw Washington or Chicago in the next round. Teague vs. John Wall could be fun as hell to watch as a series where two upset winners from Round 1 go head-to-head, so I’ll momentarily root for that. In the meantime, enjoy Game 2.