Originally Published: April 28, 2014

1. Hawks Place Pacers On Brink Of Elimination

By Mike Wells | ESPN.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- The daily grind of the 82-game regular season was spent for this moment. You know, the kind where the Indiana Pacers dominate on their home court and take another step toward eliminating those pesky Atlanta Hawks in their march toward a rematch against the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals.

The Hawks, as they've done all series, fought and didn't back down from the Pacers. They were the aggressors by dictating how the game would be played. The Pacers? They took a shot and didn't fight back until it was too late for them.

Now, as hard as it is to imagine when you consider how they were the feel-good story in early January, the Pacers have backed themselves into the position of being at risk of completing one of the biggest collapses in NBA history.

Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesRoy Hibbert was a spectator for much of the Game 5 loss to the Hawks.

The Hawks easily beat Indiana 107-97 to take a 3-2 best-of-seven lead. Atlanta can put the Pacers in the same category as the 2011 San Antonio Spurs and 2007 Dallas Mavericks -- No. 1 seed losing to a No. 8 seed -- with a victory on Thursday.

"Fighting for [our] lives, it's disappointing," Pacers forward David West said. "We're frustrated. Our team has definitely not played the way we know we're capable of."

The Pacers have nobody to blame for themselves for being in this position. They're the ones who spent the season publicly craving the No. 1 seed. They got ahead of the pack and became full of themselves, no longer with the same passion. They've continued to prove they're not mentally tough enough to handle success and not capable of handling adversity.

That's why they're trailing the series, and that's why players sat emotionless inside the locker room with dejected looks on their faces following their second home loss of the series.

This is supposed to be a time when the Pacers become tighter than ever. Instead, Paul George was talking about Hawks forward Paul Millsap attempting more free throws than West.

That's not mental toughness. That's giving excuses for getting outworked.

"The only thing that matters now is Game 6," Pacers point guard George Hill said. "Game 5, we let it slip away on our home court. Now, it's really a must-win for us for Game 6. We have to continue to fight and believe in each other and focus and trust each other."

All it took was a second-quarter shooting display by Hawks forward Mike Scott similar to what Reggie Miller would occasionally have during his 18-year career in Indiana to cause the Pacers to go from believing in themselves to ceasing to fight until the fourth quarter.

Scott scored 17 points -- 15 on 3-pointers -- on a perfect 6-of-6 shooting to lead a 41-point second quarter in which the Hawks outscored the Pacers by 22 points.

"If you could explain it, you would bottle it up," Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. "I think it helps when you see the ball go in the basket on your first shot. He's somebody that we have a lot of trust in, a lot of confidence in."

The lack of defensive adjustments had some Pacers frustrated.

"We have to be able to make better adjustments," West said. "We just didn't respond. I have no explanation on why we gave up 40-something [points] in the second quarter. "Coach [Frank Vogel] throws [the starters] back out there and says, 'Get us out of the hole.' Just tough, particularly when a team is rolling, feeling good. We're in an uphill battle the whole game."

Vogel is a prideful coach who isn't interested in adjusting his game plan. Budenholzer has one-upped Vogel so many times in the series that the Pacers coach finally stopped being stubborn with his reluctance to use shooter Chris Copeland at power forward in the second half.

Copeland brought some life, but the damage had already been done. The Pacers trailed by as many as 30 points, they lost their composure with a couple of technicals and the blue-and-gold faithful booed them in disgust.

Here the Indiana Pacers stand, their season on the brink and plenty of doubt about whether they're mentally and physically capable of extending their season at least one more game.

"I think when you back a cat in the corner or any animal in the corner, they're going to fight their way out," Hill said.

Dimes past: April 8 | 9 | 10 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27

Mike Wells

ESPN Staff Writer

2. Around the Association


Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on ESPN's media platforms. Learn more.