For Hawks and Pacers, was Game 1 just one game?

For different reasons, both sides emphasized that Saturday’s affair was only one game. But was it? Hadn’t these same Atlanta Hawks beaten these same Indiana Pacers on this same floor the same way 13 days earlier?

So that makes it two games, not one, and these teams have been trending on different tracks for a while now. The Hawks wouldn’t have made the playoffs if they hadn’t won six of their final eight regular-season games; the Pacers went 10-13 over the final six weeks.

Game 1 was one game, yes, but it wasn’t just one game. Those who follow the Pacers weren’t terribly surprised by the result. (They were, however, surprised at how readily the team hung its collective head.) Indiana hasn’t played well for months and plays its worst against Atlanta, which Pacers coach Frank Vogel conceded is “a difficult matchup.”

We tend to think of basketball as a game of one-on-one, but Hawks-Pacers is a matter of scheme-on-scheme. The Pacers have spent three-plus years under Vogel turning the massive Roy Hibbert into a lane deterrent; in Year 1 under Mike Budenholzer, the Hawks have imported the San Antonio Method, which seeks to divide and conquer. With Al Horford injured, there’s nobody for Hibbert to guard. Without the big man to backstop the Pacers’ on-ball pressure, the thing they do best becomes something they don’t do all that well.

It’s both a cruel (if you’re the Pacers) and beautiful (if you’re the Hawks) thing. A sub-.500 team that, sans Horford, has one of the NBA’s least imposing rosters, spreads the floor and shoots its treys and winds up beating the lurching Pacers off the dribble. With Hibbert otherwise occupied or outright benched, Jeff Teague flitted through the key for 28 points not two weeks after he’d torched the Pacers for 25.

“If they’re going to stay out there on our shooters,” said the Hawks’ Kyle Korver, the best of those shooters, “that leaves more room for him around the basket.”

Too many teams make basketball too complex. The Spurs – and now the Hawks – seek to simplify. The gesture Budenholzer makes most often on the sideline is to spread his arms, a signal for his men to space themselves. This isn’t football, where a team must win at the point of attack. In this sport, the point of attack can change with a deft pass.

The Hawks, who aren’t on the record even a very good team, are a terrible opponent for Indiana. Everything on which the Pacers were built was rendered inoperative in Game 1, same as in the April 6 game, and late Saturday night the coach of the team with the East’s best record was asked if he’d change his lineup for Game 2. No, Vogel said, but added: “This is the playoffs, so you have to consider everything.”

That’s how powerful the San Antonio system can be, even without a Tim Duncan or a Tony Parker to implement it. (Though Teague and Paul Millsap gave a fair approximation of those worthies Saturday.) And here, for Hawks opponents, is the really scary part: Budenholzer insisted his new team is still a neophyte.

“We’re a long way away,” he said. “They’re coming along on both defense and offense, but there’s so much room for improvement.”

The Pacers, by way of contrast, appear to have reached the point of diminishing returns. Their defense has been pierced. Their offense was never anything special. They were scowling at one another and at nobody in particular as they were being embarrassed in a third quarter that saw them called for three offensive fouls and make as many turnovers (five) as baskets.

Asked what might alleviate his team’s obvious frustration, Vogel said: “Get a lead.” (For the record, the Pacers led by six points with 1:46 left in the first half but were tied at intermission.) “Body language doesn’t look any different on any team that’s losing a basketball game.”

Which brings us full circle: Was Game 1 a one-off or, for both Hawks and Pacers, the new normal? Have the Hawks absorbed enough of Budenholzer’s system to become the toughest No. 8 seed since the 1999 Knicks? (Who made the NBA finals, FYI.) Have the Pacers hit the wall so hard that nothing functions?

“Every game is its own monster,” Korver said. “I was on two (Chicago) teams that won Game 1 of a series and lost.”

Yes, but both cases carried asterisks. In 2011, the Bulls were beaten because LeBron James got going. In 2012, they were beaten because Derrick Rose tore his ACL. The way the Hawks and Pacers are headed, it’s harder to imagine the No. 1 seed winning the next four than losing the next three.