INDIANAPOLIS — Forgive the Pacers’ David West for stating the obvious.
But at this stage of the NBA playoffs, there really isn’t much else for West — or any other member of the Indiana Pacers — to say.
“Everybody’s got to be ready to play. We’re fighting for our lives,” West said, referring to Thursday night’s Game 6 of their first-round series against the Atlanta Hawks. “It’s just really disappointing.”
On multiple levels:
The top-seed in the Eastern Conference, the Pacers trail No. 8 seed Atlanta 3-2 in the best-of-seven series. They are trying to avoid becoming the sixth No. 1 seed in league history to lose in the first round.
The best home team during the regular season, Indiana has dropped two at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in this series. Both were blowouts, including Monday’s 107-97 embarrassment that drew boos from a sellout crowd.
Atlanta, which has been without star player Al Horford most of the season, is the only playoff team that had a losing record in the regular season. Yet it has twice wrested home- court advantage from the Pacers and can close the series, at home, in Game 6.
It is a stark reality not lost on the Pacers, no matter how lost they’ve looked on the court, particularly during humiliating home losses in Games 1 and 5, when they could have grabbed control of the series.
Now, they’re simply desperate to survive it.
“We can’t think about Game 7. Game 6 is at hand. It’s a must-win,” said Paul George, who had an impressive Game 5 line (26 points, 12 rebounds, six assists and six steals) but got precious little help from anyone else. “We can’t think about nothing but Game 6.
“If we don’t win, our season’s done. It’s motivation enough right there.”
In light of the how the series has progressed, the Pacers haven’t lacked for motivation. They’ve either trailed or tied but never controlled. Their main problems have been an inability to get something, anything, out of All-Star center Roy Hibbert and an inability to counter a small Atlanta lineup that has literally shot circles around an Indiana defense that was the league’s best much of the season.
A virtual non-factor the final few weeks of the regular season, Hibbert has been a liability in the postseason. He had no points and no rebounds in a series-low 12 minutes in Game 5. West and backups Ian Mahinmi and seldom-used Chris Copeland filled in the remaining frontcourt minutes.
But an even bigger issue has been the Pacers’ inability to counter Atlanta’s small, quick, perimeter-oriented offense that hurt them throughout. The Hawks made a franchise playoff-record 15 of 27 3-point attempts in Game 5, including five of six by backup Mike Scott, in a prolific display that has typified their three wins.
“We’re playing a team that is playing a style that is capable of doing what they did (Monday night),” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “We have a great deal of respect for this opponent.”
Time is running out to pass the test. The final exam could be as early as Thursday.
“That’s the only game that matters,” Pacers point guard George Hill said. “We can’t think about anything people are saying.”