Hawks say they can play even better

Sorry Paul George. The Hawks disagree.

The Hawks scored a 101-93 victory over the Pacers Saturday in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference playoffs. With the win, the eighth-seeded Hawks stole home-court advantage from the top-seeded Pacers. Following the game, the Pacers’ All-Star had strong words about the Hawks’ performance.

“The Hawks played as good a game as they can possibly play,” George told reporters.

Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said following the game, despite the upset victory, there were areas the Hawks could improve. Several of his players said the same. They all reiterated their thoughts Sunday when told of George’s comments.

“We played solid,” Kyle Korver said after a Hawks practice. “We can play better.”

The Hawks were up by 20 points in the fourth quarter before the Pacers closed with a run that made the final score look less than a drubbing.

How could the Hawks play better?

Korver pointed to lapses in transition defense. He said the Hawks didn’t shoot particularly well. There were offensive rebounds that could have been gathered. Jeff Teague said the Hawks could make things more difficult on the Pacers defensively.

“I’m sure every coach and every player is waiting for the perfect game,” Budenholzer said. “You always just want to be the team that makes the least mistakes. There are lots of areas where we need to pay closer attention to detail and improve. That is always going to be our approach.”

Budenholzer was asked Sunday if he was surprised how well the Hawks played or how poorly the Pacers played. The coach said neither statement was entirely accurate.

The Hawks victory made national news more for the Pacers’ troubles than the Hawks’ effectiveness. The Pacers earned the top seed in the conference despite losing 13 of their final 23 games. They were drubbed by 19 points by the Hawks on April 6th – a game the Hawks led by as many as 35 points. Now, the Hawks returned to Indiana and issued another convincing victory.

The headline in the Indianapolis Star called the Pacers the ‘East’s Flop Seed.’

Pacers center Roy Hibbert, who has drawn much of the focus and fan ire for the team’s struggles, said Sunday the group is “upset, hungry, hurt and ready to go out there and compete.” He called Tuesday’s Game 2 a “must-win.”

The Hawks continued to keep the same even-keeled approach following the upset as they have all season.

“It’s just one game,” Budenholzer said. “It won’t mean anything if we don’t have the right focus and the right mentality going into Game 2. Of course, you would rather be up 1-0 then down 0-1 but there is a lot of basketball still to be played.”

The Hawks might have forced the Pacers to make significant changes to their game plan. Jeff Teague dominated whatever the defender the Pacers put on him – George Hill, C.J. Watson, Evan Turner. George told reporters Sunday that he would like to take a turn on Teague and even spoke to Pacers coach Frank Vogel about such an assignment.

It seems an odd request considering George’s comments. If the Hawks can’t play any better, why change? It remains to be seen what the Pacers ultimately do. The Hawks continue their mantra that they are just concerned with themselves.

“We had one nice game but we can’t put too much in that,” Korver said. “We expect them to come out Tuesday and we just have to be ready.”