Atlanta Hawks v Indiana Pacers - Game Five

Pacers assert themselves (as do referees), take charge of series with easy win over Hawks


The NBA’s conventional wisdom is that star players are good everywhere but role players tend to be better at home.

In the case of the Pacers and Hawks, the entire team persona seems to flip depending on where the game is played.

Game 5 was back in Indiana and after a couple dismal performances on the road the Pacers played their best game of the series on their way to a 106-83 win behind 63 points from their starting front line.

The Pacers lead the series 3-2, with Game 6 back in Atlanta Friday night. Based on how this series has gone, expect a huge night from the Hawks.

Also, let’s hope the referees aren’t as whistle happy as they were Wednesday night. The third quarter took nearly an hour (58 minutes) thanks to the constant whistles. And nobody was playing hack-an-anybody. But we’ll talk more about that later.

Indiana finally made some adjustments to the Hawks starting Johan Petro (moving Al Horford to the four and Josh Smith to the three). The Pacers put the ball in Paul George’s hands and ran him off pick-and-rolls —Smith, normally playing the four, isn’t used to having to cover the ball handler coming off that pick and he was getting knocked out of position all night. In the first half George shot 4-of-4 with 4 assists (he finished with 18 points).

Then in the second quarter the Pacers just pounded it with their big men inside — David West had 12 in second quarter as he just was more physical than the Hawks front line. Roy Hibbert had 14 in the first half, mostly by going 8-of-8 at free throw line as he was aggressive and attacking again. He does that at home.

Meanwhile, the Hawks went back to struggling against the Pacers defense, shooting just 37.5 percent in the first half. The Pacers led 50-43 at the break.

Indiana came out in the second half on an 18-5 run to put the game away. The Hawks shot 4-of-14 in the third quarter, and by the time the quarter ended the game pretty much has as well.

Of course, it took forever for the third quarter to end. Thanks to the referees.

The game had started to get a little chippy as playoff games will, and the referees decided to control that by whistling down everything — 13 fouls were called on the Pacers, 5 on the hawks and there were another 3 technicals. As noted before, it was a 58-minute quarter. It took longer than a soccer half with 5 minutes of injury time tacked on.

West finished with 24 points, George had 21 on 7-of-8 shooting, Roy Hibbert had 18 and George Hill 15. All of them outscored the Hawks leaders, Smith and Horford with 14 a piece.

Before you draw concussions about how the Pacers’ varied attack sets the tone for Game 6, just remember it goes back to Atlanta and that game will likely look nothing at all like this one.

James Harden: “I am the best player in the league. I believe that.”

James Harden, Stephen Curry
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James Harden was the MVP last season — if you ask his fellow NBA players.

The traditional award (based on a media vote) went to Stephen Curry (in the closest vote in four years), and that was the right call (in my mind). But from the time it happened Harden did not buy it. And he still doesn’t buy it. In the least — and he’s using that as fuel for this season. That’s what he told Fran Blinebury over at

“I am the best player in the league. I believe that,” he said. “I thought I was last year, too.”

Well, it’s a more realistic claim than Paul George’s.

“But that award means most valuable to your team. We finished second in the West, which nobody thought we were going to do at the beginning of the year even when everybody was healthy. We were near the top in having the most injuries. We won our division in a division where every single team made the playoffs.

“There’s so many factors. I led the league in total points scored, minutes played. Like I said, I’m not taking anything away from Steph, but I felt I deserved the Most Valuable Player. That stays with me.”

That’s very Kobe Bryant of you to turn that into fuel. Defining the MVP Award is an annual discussion that nobody agrees on.

I could get into how Harden was the old-school, traditional stats MVP, how that ignores how Steve Kerr used Curry, and how that opened up the Warriors’ offense to championship levels. Curry put up numbers, but he was also the distraction, the bright star that Kerr used to open up looks for Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and others. Curry’s strength was not just what he did with the ball in his hands, but his gravity to draw defenders even when he didn’t. Did the Warriors stay healthier than the Rockets? No doubt. Should Curry be penalized for that?

It’s simple for Harden — if he can put up those numbers again, if he can be the fulcrum of a top offense, he will be in the discussion for MVP again. And, if he can lead the Rockets beyond the conference finals, nobody will talk about that MVP snub anyway.