All-Star Paul George acknowledged he’s likely to spend at least some time defending Hawks point guard Jeff Teague on Tuesday night, though it remains unclear how long he’ll keep that assignment in Game 2 or whether the plan could change again before tip-off.
What is clear: Indiana must slow down Teague, a challenge George has already embraced.
“I would love to, just to change it up a little bit and give him a different look,” George said after the Pacers practiced Sunday.
George said he and coach Frank Vogel discussed the defensive assignment Sunday, though Vogel declined to confirm the move or any other changes he might make now that the top-seeded Pacers trail Atlanta 1-0 in the first-round series.
Solving the Teague headache is Indiana’s top priority during this two-day break.
Two weeks ago, Teague torched his hometown team for 25 points in a 107-88 victory as Atlanta became the second Eastern Conference team to win at Indiana this season. On Saturday night, he was even better — scoring a playoff career-high 28 points and dishing out five assists as Atlanta won 101-93 and became the first opponent with two wins this season at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
The emergence of the Hawks’ 6-foot-2 point guard has changed the whole image of a series the top-seeded Pacers were expected to win rather handily.
Instead, the Hawks kept the Pacers on their heels. Indiana now faces what Roy Hibbert dubbed a must-win Game 2 before the series shifts to Atlanta, where the Pacers have only two wins since December 2006.
The Hawks, who now lead the season series 3-2, have been a matchup nightmare for Indiana this season.
But that’s only part of the problem.
Since March 1, the Pacers are just 12-14, and they’ve spent most of that time trying to plug holes in what had been the league’s stingiest defense while playing through an offensive slump.
Atlanta has only exacerbated the struggles.
Center Pero Antic and forward Paul Millsap, both capable 3-point shooters, have been able to pull Hibbert and power forward David West far enough away from the basket that they can’t regularly protect the rim. Shooting guard Kyle Korver, a 3-point specialist, has caused consternation for the Pacers for years, even before he arrived in Atlanta in 2012. When forward DeMarre Carroll had 12 points, 10 rebounds and two 3-pointers Saturday, things only got worse.
With the Pacers trying to contest shots on the perimeter, Teague was able to blow through the open lanes to the basket.
“We feel like we’re working our system as well as we have all year, and things are clicking pretty good,” Korver said Sunday. “But we don’t want to be overconfident in this.”
Playoff veterans like Korver know things won’t be the same in Game 2.
“In a playoff series, every game is its own monster and a series can turn in one game,” Korver said. “We had one nice game, but we’re not going to read too much into that. We expect them to come out and play really well on Tuesday.”