The Indiana Pacers will try to put a firm grip on their first-round Eastern Conference playoff series Wednesday night when they once again host the Atlanta Hawks.
The Pacers routed the Hawks, 107-90, on Saturday behind a triple-double from All-Star swingman Paul George. He netted 23 points, pulled down 11 rebounds and handed out 12 assists. All three were game highs.
"I said before this playoff run I'm leaving everything on the floor," said George. "I know as a team what is expected of me now. I want the pressure. I'll do whatever it takes. I don't want to be labeled as a scorer or defender. I want to be a ballplayer. That's what I really hang my hat on, is a guy who can do a lot of things on the court."
Just two days later, George won the NBA's Most Improved Player Award.
George became the fourth Pacers player to earn the honor. He was a preseason favorite for the award and when former All-Star Danny Granger was sidelined for the entire season, George really emerged.
And, in his mind, he's not done yet.
"I think I can play at an MVP level," George told the Pacers website Tuesday. "That's very much in my reach. For me it's just being able to be consistent and having that aggressive mindset. But I feel I can lead a team to a championship and be the league's MVP.
"This is only going to push me to work even harder."
George, who shot 17-for-18 from the free-throw line, paced Indiana, but five other Pacers scored in double figures. George Hill, Roy Hibbert, David West, Lance Stephenson and Gerald Green all cracked the 10-point mark on Sunday.
The Hawks did some things well on Sunday. They shot 50 percent from the field and held the Pacers to slightly under 45 percent shooting.
But the Pacers showed their muscle.
They outrebounded the Hawks 48-32, including 15-6 on the offensive glass. Indiana shot 34 free throws to 14 from Atlanta in a totally dominating physical performance from one of the league's strongest groups.
"We're not going to use the free throws as a crutch to the reason why we lost that game last night," head coach Larry Drew said after practice on Monday. "That team clearly, physically manhandled us. This is playoff basketball. That cannot happen."
Jeff Teague led the Hawks with 21 points and seven assists. Josh Smith added 15 and Al Horford had a slow night against Hibbert with only 14 points and six boards.
Now the Hawks have to find a way to match the brutes in Indiana uniforms.
"I don't think they knocked us out. They dictated the way the whistle was going to go," said reserve forward Dahntay Jones. "We just have to learn from it. We have to come out, hit harder, try and hit first."
Game 3 is scheduled for Saturday night in Atlanta.