Both the Pacers
have had their hands full with No. 8 seeds in the first round. (Getty Images/2)
SI.com’s NBA writers debate the biggest playoff question of the day. Today, we examine …
Which No. 1 seed is more likely to go down in the first round: Indiana Pacers (2-2) or San Antonio Spurs (down 2-1)?
Lee Jenkins: Pacers. It's Indiana, even though the series is tied, and Atlanta is a less formidable challenger than Dallas. Indiana has played poorly for the past two months and San Antonio spectacularly, so the start of this series is a continuation of a trend for the Pacers and a deviation for the Spurs. If recent history is any indication, the Spurs will reverse course, and render these two losses an anomaly. The Pacers, however, could easily stumble once more at home and bow out. Despite the Hawks' many shortcomings, they still present a troublesome match-up for the Pacers, and their ability to shoot the three gives them way more than a puncher's chance.
Ben Golliver: Spurs. I'm not worried (yet) about either the Spurs or the Pacers, even though their first-round series haven't been the beatdowns we usually expect to see from No. 1 seeds. San Antonio fell victim to a truly special Vince Carter buzzer-beater in Game 3; scratch that play from the record and we're talking about a Manu Ginobili game-winner on the other end and a Spurs team that is in full command. We know the Spurs are uniquely prepared to bounce back from such a big shot, and we know that there is a long list of guys -- including Danny Green, Patty Mills, and Marco Belinelli -- that have yet to leave a major mark on the series offensively. You never can quite predict who will do the damage for San Antonio, but it's hard to believe Gregg Popovich will continue to get so little from multiple players who can provide game-changing sparks.
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As for the Pacers, they have weathered the storm well enough, evening the series to regain homecourt advantage while getting nice offensive nights from Paul George in their two wins. Indiana remains difficult to beat at home -- despite their recent struggles and Roy Hibbert's out-of-body experiences throughout the series -- and it will take some next-level awesomeness from Jeff Teague for Atlanta to shock the world. The Pacers' motto at this point is "Winning ugly still counts as winning."
Rob Mahoney: Pacers. San Antonio might be at a disadvantage in an unexpectedly competitive series, though as a team the Spurs are still very much competent. That's already more than we can say for the Pacers, who have tried their damnedest to lose three of their four games in this series. Forget the crisis of identity; this Indiana team has seen its defense compromised and its offense exposed, the combination of which makes the possibility of an upset -- even to Atlanta -- very real.
Every possession of every game very much in doubt for the Pacers, who can no longer be trusted to route their offense successfully or to maintain a sturdy defensive structure. We've reached the point in Indiana's desperation where their league-leading defense has been reshaped to rely less on Roy Hibbert and allow for more situational switching. The problem in that shift: Indiana played exactly one style all season long and rarely deviated from its standard assortment of lineups. Now a different approach and scrambled rotation will decide the Pacers' season, all without the frame of reference and consistency that guided Indiana in better times.
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Chris Mannix: Spurs. Call it blind, unflinching faith in the Pacers -- picked them to make the Finals, don’t you know -- but I think the Spurs are in more trouble. Dallas had San Antonio in a 10-point fourth quarter hole in Game 1. The Mavs could easily be leading this series 3-0. The Spurs have lacked their usual defensive sharpness and are getting roasted by a lot of guys on the Dallas roster not named Dirk Nowitzki. Most importantly: Dallas won 49 games this season. They have a Hall of Fame player in Nowitzki and a savvy head coach in Rick Carlisle. Beating San Antonio would be an upset but hardly a historic one.
Phil Taylor: Pacers. It has to be the Pacers, and not just because you never, ever, bet against the Spurs. Indiana managed to narrowly win Game 4 to tie the series against Atlanta, the only sub-.500 team in the playoffs, which isn't exactly an indication that the Pacers have solved the problems that have plagued them for weeks. Paul George (24 points, 10 rebounds) looked more like himself in Game 4 than he has in a while, but Roy Hibbert continues to regress, to the point where he's just a cheerleader in the fourth quarter. The bad, over-dribbling Lance Stephenson with the poor shot selection is still more in evidence than the good, unguardable-in-transition Lance Stephenson, as well. The Pacers still look like an extremely fragile team psychologically, with internal problems that go deeper than Xs and Os. Add all that to their punchless offense -- they struggle to score so much that they can never shake the underdog Hawks' confidence by blowing them out -- and it's clear that the Pacers are far from out of the woods. Also, did we mention you never, ever bet against the Spurs?
Matt Dollinger: Pacers. The Pacers are still very much much more troubled squad. Before Vince Carter's improbable shot in Game 3, the Spurs and had beaten the Mavericks in five of their six matchups this season. Indiana certainly hasn't shown that type of dominance against Atlanta. They split their season series as well as their first-round matchup so far. While promising bounce-back performances from Paul George and George Hill ease some tension, Roy Hibbert remains a 7-foot-2 question mark. It's not a good sign for Indiana that they wouldn't be where they are -- deadlocked against the playoffs' only sub-.500 team -- if it wasn't for the efforts of C.J. Watson and Luis Scola. With Hibbert playing just 25 minutes in Game 4 and sitting during the fourth quarter for the third straight game, it's clear Frank Vogel knows he isn't going to be able to resurrect his starting center in this series. The Hawks now have the top-seeded Pacers trapped in a best-of-three series, a shot they have to like considering their past success.
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