INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Atlanta Hawks are ready to start mixing it up with Indiana.
They don't have a choice.
After complaining about how the first playoff game was called, then getting chastised by their own coach for their poor effort in the loss, the Hawks spent two days assessing the damage and how to counter the Pacers' tough, in-your-face brand of basketball. The simple solution: Punch back.
"I've made no quarrels about how I feel we played from a physicality standpoint," Hawks coach Larry Drew said. "They (the players) are in agreement. So we have to come out and be more of a presence from a physicality standpoint. Not to hurt anybody, but doing things harder. Doing things with much more physicality."
For the Hawks, Game 2 on Wednesday night isn't just a chance to get even with the Pacers. It's a brand new opportunity.
Stealing a win on the road in this first-round playoff series would send Atlanta home for Games 3 and 4 with that all-important split on the road, provide needed confidence and momentum, and prove to the rest of the league that these refocused Hawks are far better than the sixth-seeded team that showed up for Sunday's series-opening debacle.
Atlanta is at its best when it scores in transition and makes 3-pointers, and Indiana never gave the Hawks a chance to get into that comfort zone Sunday. Atlanta managed only 14 fast-break points Sunday, largely because the Central Division champs committed only 14 turnovers and most of those came on dead-ball possession changes. The Hawks did manage to make 7 of 17 3-pointers but that was only slightly more efficient than the Pacers 7 of 19 and no distinct advantage.
Indiana has now won its last three against Atlanta, all at home, and Drew detected a far bigger problem in Game 1.
While the Hawks spent much of the game worrying about the calls, or lack thereof, which led to a huge discrepancy at the free-throw line, Drew was more upset that his team didn't play through the calls and got beat up inside and out. He said the Hawks were "manhandled," a term that generated a faint smile from Pacers coach Frank Vogel.
"I'd expect them to bring a great effort, but it gives me some pride because that's how we want to play," Vogel said. "We want to be the more physical team."
Indiana was missing that element during the final two weeks of the regular season when it lost five of six games.
Paul George, who won the NBA's Most Improved Player Award on Tuesday, noted that the biggest change between that skid and the start of the playoffs was the way Indiana used its hands to defend without picking up silly fouls.