So far this series has flip flopped winners, game by game. The Pacers took Game 6 in Atlanta, so that means it's the Hawks turn to finish out the series on the Pacers home court, right? Let's take a look at what the numbers have to say about today's big game.
How We Got Here
The Pacers were on the brink of elimination far earlier than they could have anticipated a couple months ago, and honestly, I don't think anyone was sure how they would respond. Although Roy Hibbert is still MIA for the Pacers, the rest of that at-one-time vaunted starting five stepped up in a big way in Game 6. Paul George and David West both dropped 24 points a piece, while Lance Stephenson and George Hill added 21 and 14 respectively.
In Atlanta's three losses, they scored 85, 88, and 88 points. In their three wins, they scored 101, 98, and 107 points. I think you can pretty easily see a trend here. The win-loss numbers split was similar for Indiana, and shows one thing: these teams play drastically different styles, and whoever more strongly imposes that style on the other wins the game.
How the Hawks Can Win
The Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, DeMarre Carroll, Paul Millsap and Pero Antic lineup has been incredibly successful against the Pacers this series, despite Antic having a lesser role offensively than most people thought coming into the series. He's only averaged 3.7 points and 3.8 rebounds in the past six games, but just him being out on the floor has posed trouble for the Pacers.
Per nba.com, that lineup has posted an offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) of 105 and a defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) of 91.9 in 102 total minutes together. That is a net rating of 13.1 - crazy good.
This lineup gives the Pacers problems specifically because it includes outside shooting at every position. All five guys can shoot threes - and shoot them well - something maybe no other lineup in the NBA can boast. Against a team that doesn't like to switch screens and likes to drop their big man down on pick-and-rolls to defend the rim, having shooting at every spot is just deadly.
Further, this lineup is so impressive because of Antic specifically. He's probably the only true stretch-five in the league that can legitimately defend big centers, like Hibbert and Mahinmi, in the post. The Pacers can't handle this lineup, just because of the versatility Antic gives them, regardless of whether he's playing well or knocking down shots.
A Game 7 on the road is stressful - the Hawks need to stick with their bread-and-butter. This is it.
How the Pacers Can Win
All of the Pacers top five lineups against the Hawks this series include perhaps a surprising name in them: CJ Watson. Three of the five include another surprising name in Ian Mahinmi. Exactly zero of the Pacers best five lineups include Roy Hibbert.
I don't need to tell you that the Hawks are a bad matchup for Hibbert, as you have probably read it on every sports blog in the past week. What's more interesting is how Frank Vogel handles it. He denied the problem earlier in the series, trying to keep Hibbert's confidence up and playing him despite the Pacers getting killed when he was on the floor.
However, in Game 6, Hibbert only played 12 minutes, while the more effective big man Mahinmi got 23 minutes. In an elimination game, you don't have the luxury of worrying about your players' confidence. You do anything you can to survive. Mahinmi is the answer, not Hibbert in this series.
This season, the Pacers were the best defensive team in the league, posting a defensive rating of 96.7. In this series, the Hawks have posted an offensive rating of 105.2. That's not Pacers basketball. If they want to win, they'll have to ramp up the defense again, like they did in Game 6, when they held the Hawks to a 96.8 rating.
The Pacers are clearly more talented than the Hawks. Despite how they've played recently, they got the number one seed for a reason. They showed glimpses of that Pacer toughness on Thursday night that had been their identity the past couple of years. If they play their game, they should advance.
numberFire algorithms: 75.8% odds the Pacers win
My pick: Just to be different, the Hawks take it on the road!