Well hello, Indiana Pacers. Welcome back (for now).
It wasn’t looking so good at halftime trailing 52-48, but the Pacers came out on fire at both ends of the court in the second half to annihilate the Hawks with an impressive 101-85 win that included a 19-0 run stretching the third and fourth quarters.
Paul George was looking MVP-conversation-like tonight, finishing with a gaudy stat line of 27, 10 and 6, together with 4 steals, a block and just a single turnover. Most impressive was the 9-16 from the field, 5-7 from three-point range, including a huge 28-footer at the third quarter buzzer to push the lead to 14. He did take some bad shots in the first half and had a hard time staying in front of Jeff Teague at times, but in the second half the team came together to help him out — and that made all the difference.
Luis Scola, after that 0-6 did in the first game, was playing “out of his mind”, as coach Frank Vogel put it. The Argentine had 20 and 7 (on 9-14 shooting) in just 19 minutes, swishing one high-arcing mid-range jumper after another.
Those two were the key, but the guy who sparked the big third quarter was — believe it or not — George Hill, who had all of his 15 points in the second half and played his best game in what feels like months. Vogel promised to mix things up and he did, pairing CJ Watson (10 points) and Hill in the backcourt, and it paid off as the speedy duo completely disrupted the Hawks’ offensive rhythm. After shooting 50% plus early in the game, the Hawks finished at 39% and scored only 33 points in the second half.
David West again battled foul trouble and finished with 8 points on 4-5 shooting, but he was also a key guy in the third quarter run. Lance Stephenson had his moments but he wasn’t really needed, finishing with 7, 3 and 5 in 25 minutes.
Ian Mahinmi had 1 points and zero rebounds, but that stat line is misleading. He was great on the defensive end, much more effective than Roy Hibbert’s 1-7 performance (6 points, 4 rebounds). Roy’s pretty much the only guy not on the same page right now, and it’s questionable if he will before it’s too late. That said, any time you get almost nothing from your starting center and still blow out the opponent is a good sign. If and when Roy gets his act together the Pacers will be a whole different beast.
The series now shifts to Atlanta for games 3 and 4 with the teams tied at 1-1, and the Pacers need to get one over there to make up for their game 1 meltdown. The win saved the season for the Pacers but it’s way too early to suggest they’ve gotten over the hump. We’ve had too many of these “they’re finally back!” games over the last few weeks for anyone to get excited over a couple of good quarters. Each game in the playoffs is its own beast and momentum can shift rapidly.
The Hawks are tough at home, but the Pacers showed last year that they can win there in the playoffs. The key is to play with the same amount of aggression and effort, not fouling and forcing them to take contested twos and threes. As we saw tonight, when the shots don’t fall for a jump-shooting team like the Hawks things become very difficult for them.
Tip off is at 7pm ET on Thursday.