Posted by lethalweapon3 in lethalweapon3's Pre-Game Preview Blog, 03 May 2014 - · 404 views
WIN… and THEY Go Home!
The outcome of today’s Game 7 (5:30 PM Eastern, SportSouth, TNT), a game that was not supposed to happen, will not provide easy answers for either the Atlanta Hawks or the Indiana Pacers. But it sure will help clarify a lot of questions.
The Pride of Pike High School, Jeffrey Demarco Teague was still at Wake Forest when the Indianapolis Star acclaimed “The Magnificent Seven”, a Rushmore of top Indianapolis-area high school talents bound for greatness in the NBA. Greg Oden, Eric Gordon, even Josh McRoberts and Rodney Carney were adorned with honorary membership. There was no effort from the Indy Star to modify the name to “The Great Eight” once Teague entered the league in 2009.
Today, Teague has an opportunity to secure his place in Naptown lore with his first NBA playoff series victory as a starter, beating not just any #1-seed, but the team he grew up watching on TV and reading about in the local rag.
Of the #8-seeds to pull off a first-round upset, the 1999 Knicks were the only team to win twice on the opponent’s floor, back then in a five-game series. Can Teague (94.1 FT%, tops in the East; 34.3 assist percentage) restart the Hawks’ offensive ball movement that was the hallmark of their regular season?
Can he force defensive stops against George Jesse Hill, Jr., the Pride of IUPUI and Broad Ripple High and gold-plated “Magnificent Seven” member? Can he guide the Hawks to an unprecedented third road playoff victory, and the fourth in a month over the Pacers, the team with the league’s best home regular season record (35-6), in Indiana’s own building?
Emanual David Ginobili was on the floor starting in Games 5 through 7 of the 2013 NBA Finals, replacing Tiago Splitter and nearly doubling his minutes from an already ineffective first four games in the series with the Miami HEAT. After a solid Game 5 helping San Antonio gain a 3-2 lead, Manu was entrusted to close out Games 6 and 7. He responded by toying with the basketball for over 60 minutes, well beyond his expiration date, like a rhythmic gymnast tripping on acid. “Dirty pictures” were about the only plausible explanation remaining after the third member of the Spurs’ Big Three tossed his umpteenth turnover into the second row, Tony Parker unable to commandeer the ball, Matt Bonner watching hopelessly from the bench when the Spurs desperately needed a three-pointer in the clutch.
LeBron James eventually would win Finals MVP, but viewers across North America wondered aloud if an LVP award was being molded for the Argentine. One particular game previewer in Atlanta was left to wonder: was Ginobili’s mystifying minutes allocation the design of Gregg Charles Popovich, or that of his trusted assistant, Mike Budenholzer?
One could argue Teague’s inexplicable rest periods in the second halves affected the eventual outcomes of Games 2 and 6 in the Hawks-Pacers series, both games falling in Indiana’s favor. With this series now riding in the balance, will Budenholzer leave this game in the hands of his most effective point guard? Or will he continue to reserve crucial minutes for Shelvin Bernard Mack, just one year Teague’s junior, as some kind of valuable learning experience?
“It’s On Me!” Paul Millsap was just a pup in 2007, as Tracy Lamar McGrady, Jr., issued a declaration about the consequences of his favored Rockets conceivably losing another first round series, this time to Millsap’s Utah Jazz. Millsap only played seven minutes in Game 7 but experienced the joy of winning his first playoff series, as All-Star Jazzmen Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams toppled T-Mac and Yao Ming in Houston.
Will Millsap’s Game 7 experience positively influence the quality of his play in tonight’s final matchup with the higher-seeded Pacers? Can he put tonight’s outcome “on him” and dominate his matchups with David Moorer West, and/or Ian Mahinmi, while avoiding foul trouble?
DeMarre LaEdrick Carroll has well exceeded the defensive output the Hawks got from DeShawn Stevenson in last year’s series with the Pacers. Can the self-proclaimed Junk Yard Dog make an indelible name for himself in the league by slowing Paul George’s roll, or will he be tamed under the weight of his first Game 7?
After a rough start to the series for the league’s top three-point shooter, Kyle Elliot Korver has his accuracy back up above 40 percent from downtown, while averaging a career-high 12.5 PPG and 5.7 APG. But in last year’s elimination game, Korver shot 0-for-7 on threes against Indiana. Will that guy show up, or the guy who buried the Pacers with five threes to sew up Game 5? Can a committee of Carroll, Teague, Millsap, Lou Williams and Mike Scott make Indiana pay for overpursuing Korver?
Five points, three rebounds, two blocks. Not much was needed of Elton Tyron Brand just two years ago, as the starting center for the #8-seed Philadelphia 76ers. The bloom was off the Rose for the top-seeded Chicago Bulls after their superstar guard went down in Game 1, and their starting center in Game 3, of the series with the Sixers. Tom Thibodeau hardly had the presence of mind to play Korver in the deciding Game 6 to help his team’s cause. All Doug Collins required of Brand were 35 minutes to fend off something called Omer Asik, setting the stage for a semi-heroic Game 6 victory in the City of Brotherly Shove.
Two seasons later, Brand is deferring his minutes (7.5 minutes in Game 4, 6 minutes in Game 6, no fouls, both losses) to something called Pero Antić. Can the esteemed 35-year-old provide the defensive energy and offensive boost in the post that has been lacking for Atlanta throughout most of this series? Will Budenholzer grant his veteran center, in possibly his final trip to the playoffs, the opportunity to do so?
As president of the Pacers, Larry Joe Bird determined in 2007 that Rick Carlisle lacked the coaching mettle to lead an NBA team to the Promised Land, and brought in a new crew featuring Frank Paul Vogel as a lead assistant. Four years later, while Carlisle was leading a different NBA team toward the Promised Land, Vogel was settling in as the new top dog on the sidelines, turning the Pacers’ fortunes around in mid-season to reach the playoffs while angling for the head coach job full-time.
Now, in 2014, today’s Game 7 could serve as a referendum on Vogel’s fitness to continue on as Bird’s coach of choice. No matter how successful anyone aside from Popovich has been, losing a series to a #8-seed puts them essentially into Avery Johnson-status going forward.
Budenholzer has been singing throughout this series like Mic Murphy, adhering both teams to play within his system, even when it’s not bearing fruit (25.7 3FG% in Game 6). He’s compelling Vogel to be the coach constantly making adjustments even though Indiana has the superior talent.
Vogel was able to rely in 2013 on a then-sane Roy Denzil Hibbert, who truly came alive against Miami’s donut-holed defense by averaging 22 points and 10 rebounds in the conference finals. Vogel was roundly criticized for yanking Hibbert late in Game 1 of that series, and kept him in for Game 7, only to watch helplessly as Hibbert and Paul George absorbed their fifth fouls before the third quarter ended. Eleven months later, Indiana’s All-Star center has gone from averaging 22 and 10 versus Miami, to totaling 24 and 19 over the course of six games against Atlanta, even with little discernible competition from the Hawks at the 5-spot.
Aside from the ones in Hibbert's head, this game is for all the marbles. Knowing this could be his last stand before a side-eyed Pacer fanbase, and a possible stretch-provision casualty if things continue spiraling downward, will Hibbert finally emerge in Game 7 to be at least average? Or will Vogel finally acknowledge Hibbert is a lost cause for 2014, paving the way for Mahinmi to officially take charge?
Lance Stephenson, Jr. would have you believe he was Born Ready for this moment. His playoff scoring and overall shooting are highs for his four-year career. But his shot selection for most of the series could nicely be described as erratic. Headed toward a free agent payday with somebody this summer, how will Stephenson perform with the season on the line? Which team’s cause will he help more?
George was about a hokey-pokey step away from imperiling his availability for Game 7. Last season ended in Game 7 of the conference finals in Miami, hounded into 2-for-9 shooting and, perhaps trying to overcompensate, fouling his way out of the contest with under eight minutes to go.
The newly-24-year-old swingman gets a $10 million raise next season as part of his super-max contract extension. Accordingly, can he demonstrate to his fans that his ceiling remains higher than that of a Pippenesque character, needing an Alpha-dog to lead him to a title? A convincing, redemptive victory today won’t prove that, but it will go a long way to clarifying how super this star truly is.
Burning questions won’t necessarily get doused with definitive answers today. But the outcome will result in even more intrigue, both for the Washington Wizards’ next opponent, and for the team looking toward an eventful offseason. We’re all about to find out which team is which.