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The Indiana Pacers relieved a little bit of the pressure they've been feeling on Tuesday night, riding a very good outing from Paul George and a good ol' third-quarter smackdown to a 101-85 win over the Atlanta Hawks that evened their best-of-seven first-round playoff series at one game apiece. The Pacers juggled their coverages, got vital aggressive play from point guard George Hill and created turnovers in bunches to turn the tide in the second half of Game 2, helping wipe away the sour taste of a Game 1 defeat.
But while the sun shines a lot brighter and the birds sing a lot more sweetly at 1-1 than at 0-2, winning Game 2 didn't automatically make everything all beer and Skittles in Indy. The Pacers still head to Atlanta for Thursday's Game 3 having squandered the home-court advantage they'd worked to achieve, needing to score a victory at an arena in which they've struggled over the years. The Pacers have just two wins at Philips Arena since December 2006 and a 2-6 mark since head coach Frank Vogel took over midway through the 2010-11 season, although they've won two of their last three there and clinched their first-round series win over the Hawks in Atlanta last season. If they can't score a W in Georgia, they'll head back to Indiana for Game 5 just one loss away from an opening-round elimination that would not only be historic (Indy would be just the fifth No. 1 seed ever to be toppled by a No. 8 seed in Round 1) and embarrassing for the top-seeded Pacers, but that would represent a stunning crash-and-burn conclusion for a team that raced out to a 40-12 mark before the All-Star break but fell apart thereafter, going 16-14 to finish the season and running out the league's second-worst offense (ahead of only the historically awful Philadelphia 76ers) following the All-Star break.
Considering how precipitous the Pacers' free-fall has been, and how calamitous a first-round loss to a 38-44 Hawks team playing without injured centerpiece Al Horford would be, and the mounting number of reports of unrest (and even straight-up fights) throughout the Pacers roster, it didn't seem particularly surprising when reporters like Yahoo Sports NBA columnist Adrian Wojnarowski and ESPN.com's Marc Stein wrote that, despite posting a .625 winning percentage in three-plus years at the helm in Indy, Vogel's job could be in jeopardy should the Pacers lose this series to the Hawks. Pacers general manager Kevin Pritchard clearly heard the swirling rumors, because he decided to do his part to put them to rest via Twitter on Thursday:
Larry Bird just told me his sources say Frank Vogel's job is safe. @Pacers
— Kevin Pritchard (@PacersKev) April 24, 2014
Not a bad joke, Mr. Pritchard. Still, though, I'm with Jared Wade of Pacers blog 8 Points, 9 Seconds: "While I wouldn’t doubt the as-of-now sincerity of Pritchard or the organization at large, I still wouldn’t want to be Vogel if the Hawks win this series." Pritchard's comments echo Bird saying two weeks ago that he "100 percent" supports Vogel, but it's awful difficult to imagine Bird allowing such a mammoth cratering to go unpunished.
For now, though, the Pacers' head coach heads into Game 3 having received a vote of confidence from his bosses. We'll see if his team responds with the kind of on-court support that can help Vogel regain the upper hand in this first-round matchup.
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