The good news is that the Pacers’ first round series is back even at 2-2 after the team pulled out a hard-fought 91-88 win in game 4. The bad news is that the Pacers still don’t look anything like a first seed that should be rolling over the streaky Hawks, meaning this series is far from over. It’s so shaky right now that I would still say game 5 at home on Monday is a must win, and if this game goes 7 I’d still be very very nervous.
How shaky was it? The Pacers ran out to an 8-0 start but soon found themselves down 11-10. They scored just 13 points on 5-20 shooting in the second quarter to trail 48-42 at the half. They trailed by 6 with 7 minutes to go. As a team they were 0-4 from the line in the fourth quarter, with both David West and Paul George missing 2 apiece. George’s attempts could have iced the game with 6 seconds left in the game, but instead he gave the Hawks a chance to send the game into overtime with a 3 pointer. George Hill stuck to Kyle Korver and center Pero Antic was forced to take a tough 3 at the buzzer that hit the front of the rim.
It was a frustrating game to watch as a Pacers fan because the team didn’t show the type of desperation I expected them to, and it almost cost them. The long offensive rebounds continued. The sloppy passes and dribbling. The ball stopping. And this time it was their inability to stop Paul Millsap, who racked up 29 points despite sitting with early foul trouble in the third quarter.
When Millsap picked up 2 quick fouls after the break and was sent to the bench, the Pacers capitalized to pull even with 5 minutes to go in the third. They were also in the penalty the rest of the way. Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer put Millsap back in with four fouls and the Pacers didn’t attack him to try and make him pick up his fifth. They also stopped attacking the basket to get to the line. Hence the Hawks would lead by 3 with just under 3 to go in the quarter before the Pacers rallied for a lead with the only well executed offensive sequences of the entire game.
I had expected the game to come down to whether the Hawks could make their 3-point attempts in the fourth quarter. Instead, it came down to the Pacers hitting 3 big 3s in the last 4:15 to turn a 5-point deficit into a 4-point lead with 1:32 remaining. The first one was from Paul George, curling off a screen. The second was George Hill in the corner. The third was, believe it or not, David West.
So evidently, the Pacers had a bunch of guys step up tonight. Despite the two big missed freebies, Paul George played like a superstar tonight. He finished with 24, 10 and 5 to go with 2 blocks on 10-18 shooting and 4-7 from behind the arc, AND he kept Jeff Teague to 14 points on 5-15 shooting. David West was also huge, getting 18 points, and George Hill had 15 big ones to outscore Jeff Teague for the first time this series, including a tough driving layup to give the Pacers a 3-point lead with less than a minute to go.
Evan Turner was the X-factor in the first half. Lance Stephenson picked up 2 quick fouls in the first quarter and Turner stepped in and stepped up to score 11 and dish out 4 assists to keep the Pacers in the game. CJ Watson (6 points) and Luis Scola (4 points) only contributed 10 in total, but they were big, key baskets. Mahinmi battled foul trouble too but his rim protection was solid. In fact, the whole team stepped up defensively and had 11 blocks, with everyone in the starting unit apart from Hill, who had 1, record 2 blocks apiece, with another 2 from Mahinmi. A lot of active hands tonight with 7 steals and about 100 deflections.
Lance was the only guy who really hurt the team tonight with some missed shots and 4 costly turnovers, going for 5 points on 2-9 and missing 6 of his 7 three-point attempts. And he had to be consoled by Hibbert after coughing up the ball down the stretch to give the Hawks another opportunity to tie the game. When you need Hibbert to console you you know its’ bad.
Speaking of the big dog, he didn’t do that badly, actually. Apart from the aforementioned 2 blocks, he finished with 6 points on 3-5 shooting and had 3 rebounds, 2 on the offensive end. He looked less pathetic out there, but coach Vogel still erred on the side of caution and played Mahinmi in crucial stretches before going with the most effective lineup, with West and Scola, down the stretch.
Anyway, what matters right now is that the Pacers have tied up the series and will ensure the series goes at least 6 games. Everyone keeps waiting for the Pacers to turn the corner, wake up and realized they are the 1st seed, and then steamroll the Hawks into the second round. But let me tell you: it’s not going to happen. If the Pacers were going to do it then this would have been the game. They showed some decent signs at both ends of the floor today but they are still nowhere near where they need to be.