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vs. Atlanta
What: First-round Eastern Conference playoffs
Series: Tied at 1
Game 1: Atlanta 101, Indiana 93
Game 2: Indiana 101, Atlanta 85
Today: at Atlanta, 7 p.m.
Saturday: at Atlanta, 2 p.m.
Monday: at Indiana, 8 p.m.
May 1: at Atlanta, TBD*
May 3: at Indiana, TBD*
*-if necessary

Pacers ‘got mad,’ won

So maybe the Indiana Pacers don’t like being called wussies.

Is that all it took, an on-air jab from Charles Barkley? Some brash talk, apparently, from Atlanta Hawks guard and Indianapolis native son Jeff Teague? Or was it the stark reality that they were closing in on owning the notorious legacy of a team that melted in the bright lights, faster than frozen yogurt?

What made the Pacers so relentless in Game 2, and was it only temporary relief or an 11th-hour cure? Will they do more of the same the next two games in Atlanta?

“We’re going to have to,” David West said. “We’ve got no choice.”

If Game 2’s 101-85 pounding of the Hawks was a turnaround, and not a mirage, maybe that was the secret all along. These past wobbly weeks, it was the Pacers’ option to heal themselves or not. The Eastern Conference standings were a forgiving place. But they didn’t.

Now they have no choice.

The public, the media, the calendar and the Hawks have all ganged up on them with a stern message: Now, or never.

Is that what it took?

“I just think we got mad,” Roy Hibbert said.

Paul George called it “November and December and January basketball. We got back to that.”

Luis Scola said it is just a matter of playing harder and with more energy.

“When you play harder all those little things go to your side. Loose balls, rebounds, call. It gives you more confidence. The game becomes easier,” he said.

“If we play the way we played in Game 1, we’re going to lose regardless of X’s and O’s, regardless of who we play, regardless of where we play.”

Hmmm. You play hard you win, you don’t play hard, you get kicked into summer.

Surely it can’t be that simple. Can it?

Did it take some alleged smack – and 28 Game 1 points – from Teague to rekindle George’s fire, and that of his fellow Indiana defenders.

“Paul was tired of people talking to him on the other team. I’m not going to name any names,” Hibbert said. “But he really got aggressive after that. So one of their guys woke up a sleeping beast, or whatever the saying is.

“He’s a two-time All-Star. You don’t want to start jawing with him. A lot of guys are one-dimensional players. Paul almost triple-doubled. Don’t mess with him.”

Imagine if, after so many weeks of speculation and doubt from the outside as the Indiana record slid, all it took was for the Pacers to hear a few brash words from the other side. That, and feel the heat of the playoffs.

Plus a few Frank Vogel tweaks, such as playing point guards George Hill and C.J. Watson at the same time, making Hill a more daring player.

“I found something, but it’s not the answer,” he said, expecting the Hawks to countermove tonight.

“We’ve been on the ropes a little bit. Every team goes through that. I thought we did a great job of dealing with any issues we have,” West said. “We talk to one another, so nothing festers and we’re able to get through the ups and downs of a long NBA season.

“We believe in who we are.”

Mike Lopresti is a freelance writer. His columns appear periodically.