The Atlanta Hawks certainly pulled off the biggest surprise in the still infant 2014 NBA Playoffs this past weekend. After finishing the regular season with a record under .500, the Hawks came into a road playoff game and knocked off the top-seeded Indiana Pacers in game one of their series to steal home-court advantage and take control of the series.
Obviously much talk about the game has revolved around the Pacers and how their struggles in the second half of the regular season are far from being righted. Roy Hibbert and George Hill were still non-factors, Paul George continued to try and force things offensively, and their bench didn’t make much of an impact. However, you can’t discredit what Atlanta was able to do.
Despite the Pacers’ issues this season, their defense has still remained solid. However, the Hawks were able to slice up their defense in a number of ways. Even with Kyle Korver shooting just 2-7 from long-range, Jeff Teague and Paul Millsap both were doing almost whatever they wanted offensively and the reserve backcourt duo of Shelvin Mack and Lou Williams provided needed offense off of the bench.
However, none of those guys are the x-factor in this series. European veteran and NBA rookie Pero Antic is absolutely huge in this series and was so in game one. In 28 minutes, he put up just eight points and seven rebounds while shooting 3-7 from the floor and 2-5 from three. His impact is much greater than that.
In the 28 minutes Antic was on the floor, the Hawks had a net-rating of plus-16.2 points per 100 possessions. Their defense remained solid, but it’s what he brings to the offense that is so huge. As a stretch-five (to somewhat make up a term), Antic can help draw Hibbert out of the paint and away from being a rim-protector. This sets up things for Teague and Millsap at the rim, allowing them to score or get to the foul-line. Moreover, Antic also proved he’s not going to back down from the toughness the Pacers try to hold over their opponents.
Though he may not be a 20-point scorer at any point in this series, Antic is huge for the Hawks in trying to take down Indiana in this series. What he does for their spacing and offense is perfect for combatting what makes the Pacers’ defense so effective. If he can continue affecting games like he did in game one, that first win may not be the only one in this series.