After digging themselves a 2-3 hole against the eighth-seeded Atlanta Hawks in their first round NBA Playoffs matchup, the Indiana Pacers looked like a disgruntled group of strangers on the court who seemed to have lost their desire to play the game of basketball.
Granted, a lot of their struggles also had to do with the Hawks playing an unorthodox style of basketball wherein they shot more than 40 threes per game - a good some coming from their bigs - which presented a unique set of problems for the Pacers' front court.
To their credit, the Pacers found a way to maintain their composure, and in the end, finally solved the Hawks puzzle by sticking to their true identity and utilizing their same rotation from last year's squad that reached the Eastern Conference Finals. The Pacers pounded the ball agains the undersized Hawks, stepped up their perimeter defensive pressure, and with the exception of C.J. Watson who took over D.J. Augustin's role, stuck with the players in their roster from last season in Game 6 and 7.
"Back on pace," said Pacers point guard Donald Sloan after Game 7, on where the team is at the moment. "I think we actually needed this early test to get us back in the groove; to get us playing back together."
But for everything to mesh, a lot of strength, positivity and calm minds had to be in place for the rest to be able to stay the course during the Pacers' trying stretches. "Having guys like (David) D-West around, having a great coach, it's not easy to give in and give up and feel defeated; when you got guys like that who are so positive and so strong leading this group, there was no way they're going to let us get down," Sloan said.
The Pacers have been struggling since the All-Star break, but are finally starting to look like the formidable team they were at the beginning of the season. Waiting to test them anew are the Washington Wizards in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, which starts on Monday in Indianapolis.