The Pacers are just one loss away from becoming the sixth No. 1 seed in history to lose in the first round of the NBA playoffs after falling 107-97 to the Hawks in Game 5. Atlanta now leads 3-2.
• Pacers explore the depths of rock bottom. Good night, nurse. The Pacers' catastrophic collapse over the last month hasn't so much been a fall from grace as a reckless base jump from the top of the Eastern Conference without a parachute. The team's No. 1 seed now serves more as a painful reminder of what they should be rather than a bade of their accomplishments. And yet all that withstanding, the Pacers still seemed like a sure-fire thing to beat the Hawks, the postseason's only sub-.500 team, in the first round of the playoffs.
If you picked the eighth-seeded Hawks to topple Indiana, then you either live in Fulton County, Georgia, have a direct blood-line connection to one of the team's players or made a mistake when filling out your bracket (indulge me and pretend like we fill out NBA playoff brackets).
Now we're five games into the series and it's tough to imagine Atlanta not winning after watching them take a 3-2 lead with yet another convincing win, looking once again like the team more resemblant of a No. 1 seed.
So why do we spend so much time talking about what's wrong with Indiana rather than what's right with Atlanta? Because we honestly still don't know what to make of these Hawks. They went 37-45 during the regular season, haven't had their best player since December and yet somehow just beat a 56-win team in three of their last five games.
We know what the Pacers are: a disaster. We spent almost an entire season watching them stifle the competition and play like title contenders. Now they've become so confounding, so disjointed and so miserable that they've left Larry Bird looking like this:
It's gruesome to see a man a proud as Bird in such despair and disbelief, but not as gruesome as the sights he's been taking in during this series. Indiana's defense -- ranked No. 1 in the league during the regular season -- has been reduced to a blue-and-gold welcome mat. The team's offense, once anchored by Paul George, steadied by David West and Roy Hibbert and sparked by Lance Stephenson, now has the cohesion of paint thinner. And one of the most disciplined and physical bunches in the league now possesses the mental makeup and body language of a bunch of middle schoolers.
If you've watched the Pacers over the last five weeks, then you'd seen Game 5 before. Roy Hibbert had 0 points and 0 rebounds in 12 minutes (although invisible is an improvement at this point). The team was torched from the outside (Atlanta shot 15-of-27 from three-point range) and outmuscled on the inside (Hawks outrebounded 38-35). The Pacers gave up a 30-6 run in the second quarter, killing their spirits and chances of winning the game in the process.
Indiana is now just one loss away from completing its colossal collapse and having its season come to a merciful end. It'll need two wins against a motivated Hawks squad to keep it alive.
Will the Pacers find a way to force a decisive Game 7 back in Indianapolis? If the past few weeks are any indication, they're much more likely to roll over in Game 6 and call it a season.
• Mike Scott takes his turn in roasting the Pacers. The Hawks have had a host of players go off against Indy. Jeff Teague has gotten into the paint at will. Paul Millsap has abused the team's bigs. Kyle Korver and DeMarre Carroll have caught fire at different times. I could go on.
But Game 5 was Mike Scott's turn. The reserve big man was shooting just 32.2 percent in the playoffs coming into Monday, but Scott came out three-points ablazin' in Game 5. He scored all 17 of his points during a miraculous 12-minue stretch, going 6-of-6 from the field and 5-of-5 from three point range, which a banked in triple to boot. His hot shooting helped Atlanta bury Indiana in the second quarter (41-19) and run out to a lead they wouldn't relinquish.
Scott is just the latest Hawks big man to have success on the perimeter against the Pacers. With Indiana's big men unused to running out and contesting shots, Atlanta has used the three-point ball to take a 3-2 lead, hitting 11.8 three pointers per game.
• What's next after a Pacers first-round-exit? The future isn't pretty. And I'm not talking about Wizards-Hawks.
If the Pacers do, in fact, become just the sixth No. 1 seed in hisory to fall in the first round, the ramifications are likely to be significant.
Pacers general manager Kevin Pritchard assured that head coach Frank Vogel's job was safe after a report came out indicating otherwise, but it's hard to see any head coach surviving a disappointment of this magnitude. In addition, Lance Stephenson and Evan Turner are both restricted free agents this offseason. Indiana will definitely not be bringing both back -- especially after last week's scuffle -- and could lose both if Stephenson fetches a high enough price tag.
And what do the Pacers do with Roy Hibbert, their All-Star signed signed to a maximum deal but playing with the confidence of one fighting for a 10-day contract? Also struggling signficantly this series has been the team's starting point guard, George Hill, who is also locked into a hefty contract he hasn't been living up to of late.
These tough decisions are just another reason why the Pacers' braintrust is hoping the team it thought had title aspirations doesn't bow out in the first round.
In a very, very public case of adding insult to injury, the Pacers were not only routinely bulled by their home crowd at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Monday, but the NBATV broadcast caught one disgruntled fan heckling Paul George on live TV:
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