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Pacers hope 'return to form' sticks around

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INDIANAPOLIS — If the Indiana Pacers are destined for a deep playoff run, it’s no secret how they’ll get there.

They’ll do it with energy, efficiency and defense. Lots and lots of defense.

Or so says David West, the undisputed locker room leader who typically sets the tone for how the Pacers play.

“We’re just going to continue to play the way we have played all year, rely on our defense and tighten the screws in that regard,” the veteran power forward said. “We need to take care of the ball. That’s ultimately the keys for us.”

Coach Frank Vogel agrees. And if Sunday’s Game 1 performance in the first-round playoff series against No. 6 seed Atlanta is an indication, he’s confident the Pacers are back on solid footing. They were on anything but solid ground heading into the postseason.

“It’s the type of game that we want to play. It’s the identity we want to have,” Vogel said of the 107-90 win.

Specifically, those qualities are defense, rebounding and spreading the scoring wealth. Game 1 saw the Pacers hold Atlanta’s season-scoring leaders Josh Smith and Al Horford below their averages, while at the same time win the rebound battle (48-32) and having all five of their own starters score in double figures.

Nothing complicated about the strategy, but executing it during the final six games of the regular season was an exercise in failure. The Pacers won only one of those games but reverted to tried and true habits in time for Game 1.

To keep momentum, and home court advantage, the Pacers will to continue the trend throughout the playoffs. Game 2 of the best-of-7 series is tonight at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

“We want to be a defensive-rebounding team,” Vogel said. “We want to be an offensive physicality team that makes the extra pass, that plays uptempo. We’ve got to play with passion.

“When we play with passion and energy at both ends of the floor, we’re pretty good.”

No argument from the Hawks, who had no answers for Indiana’s mix of effort and energy, especially on the glass.

“We definitely have to get on the boards,” said point guard Jeff Teague, a former Pike High School star who led the Hawks with 21 points in Game 1.

“They were definitely killing us on the offensive rebounds and just playing harder.”

“We didn’t match it at all, but we will come back on Game 2 ready.”

The Pacers expect nothing less — of Atlanta and of themselves. As far as they are concerned, the regular-season — and how it ended — is a distant memory.

“The regular season’s behind us. I don’t think it matters now,” said point guard George Hill, who had 18 points in Game 1. “We came out and said to each other the record is zero-zero.

“It’s the new start of a season, and we’ve got to play with better effort.”

Mentally and emotionally, as well as physically.

“Confidence is everything in this league. Your team’s pysche can be fragile, if you let it be,” Vogel said. “We understand there’s going to be an ebb and flow throughout the course of the regular season.

“We’ve just got to keep our guys’ confidence high and understand what they’re capable of.”

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