I can’t think of a better matchup for the Atlanta Hawks in the first round than the Indiana Pacers. Usually, a No.8 seed would be intimidated by the No.1 seed, but this is not the case with Indiana. The Hawks managed to split the season series 2-2, which included a blowout win for Atlanta in their latest meeting on the Pacers’ own home floor. However, despite the well deserved season split, this is not why the Hawks will beat Indiana in the first round.
That answer is twofold, yet simple: Jeff Teague and Paul Millsap. The two leaders for the Hawks this year should have no problem getting their way in this series after the performances both of them have turned in during the team’s final push for the playoffs. Teague has averaged an incredible 18.8 points per game in the month of April, and that includes two contests where he hardly even touched the floor in the second half. This number could have been much higher, as well as his 5.8 assists per game too.
However, what really sets Teague apart from the rest of the Hawks is his ability to show up in big games. Down the stretch when his team needed him the most, the point guard delivered two of his best performances of the season against the Pacers and Miami Heat. He scored 25 points in each to help guide Atlanta to two huge wins with the season on the line. Had the Hawks not won one or both of these games, they might not even be in the NBA Playoffs, but luckily they had Teague.
As good as he was for Atlanta toward the end, the same could be said for Millsap. The team’s lone All-Star raised his game at the right time alongside his sidekick, Teague, and the two created a lethal combo. In Millsap’s last eight games, he averaged a remarkable 19.9 points and 11.8 rebounds per game. Talk about getting hot at the perfect moment for the Hawks. If he continues to perform at this level come playoff time, the Pacers can forget about stopping the versatile power forward.
Atlanta can’t afford for one or both to not show up in this series, though. If either Teague or Millsap don’t give it their all, the Hawks can forget about beating Indiana. The task will be hard enough already as it is with players such as Paul George and David West leading the charge for the Pacers. Therefore, in order to pull off the historic upset, it will take an incredible effort from both Teague and Millsap to lead this Atlanta team past the first round.