The Indiana Pacers finally showed they could win in Atlanta.
The Pacers held the Hawks to just nine points in the second quarter, beat up Atlanta on the boards for the second game in a row and wrapped up their opening-round series with an 81-73 victory Friday night.
Indiana, which withstood a furious Hawks comeback in the closing minutes, won the series 4-2 and advanced to face the New York Knicks in the conference semifinals. Game 1 is Sunday at Madison Square Garden.
It was the Pacers’ first victory in Atlanta since 2006, snapping a streak of 13 straight losses that included Games 3 and 4 in this series.
”I’m very proud of our guys to come in here, a tough place to win,” coach Frank Vogel said. ”A particularly tough place for us to win. It’s good to end that streak. But more importantly, it’s good to advance and show the type of toughness you need to make a deep playoff run. To win with defense and rebounding, that’s been our identity all year, and that was the key to the last two victories.”
The Hawks went through an absolutely brutal stretch from early in the second quarter to nearly midway through the third, in which they did not actually put the ball in the hoop.
In the equivalent of more than a quarter – 15:43 to be exact – Atlanta went 1 of 21 from the field, the only basket awarded to Devin Harris on a goaltending call against Roy Hibbert.
At a time when the Hawks needed one of their best performances of the season, they produced one of their worst. They were 1 for 15 shooting in the second – 6.7 percent – and the nine points set a franchise playoff low for that quarter.
”I wouldn’t have believed it,” said Josh Smith, who, like many of his teammates, might’ve played his last game in a Hawks uniform. ”We just couldn’t get it going offensively.”
George Hill and David West each scored 21 points to lead the Pacers, while Hibbert chipped in with 17 points and 11 rebounds. Lance Stephenson also had 11 rebounds.
Indiana dominated the boards, 53-35, which helped overcome its own poor shooting (32 of 76, 42 percent). In the final two games of the series, the Pacers absolutely manhandled the Hawks on the glass, piling up a 104-63 rebounding edge.
To their credit, the Hawks showed plenty of heart, slicing Indiana’s lead to 76-73 on Al Horford’s dunk with 2:13 remaining.
But the comeback fizzled. Horford’s slam, it turned out, was the final basket of the season.
New York finished off the Celtics 88-80 shortly after the horn sounded at Philips Arena. The Pacers were certainly glad they didn’t have to return to Indianapolis for a decisive game against the Hawks.
”It’s nice to be able to get it done here,” Hibbert said. ”We showed a lot of resolve when the other team made their run.”
The home team had won every game in the series until the Pacers built a 19-point lead in the third quarter, when Hill and West combined for 22 points, and held on at the end.
For the Hawks, it figures to be a tumultuous offseason.
Atlanta has only three players who are definitely under contract for next season – Horford is the lone starter in the group – and there could be a new coach, too. Larry Drew is in the final year of his contract, and general manager Danny Ferry figures to want his own man on the bench as he heads to his second season.
Smith, an Atlanta native who has played for the team ever since he was drafted out of high school eight seasons ago, is among those heading into free agency.
”There’s plenty of time to think about what the future presents,” he said. ”I’m not really concerned about that right now.”
If that’s it for Smith in Atlanta, he missed his final shot, a 20-footer clanking off the rim.
How fitting on a night when the Hawks made only 26 of 78 (33 percent). Horford led with 15 points, while Smith and Harris finished with 14.
The Hawks couldn’t play much worse than they did in the second quarter. They showed little energy. They settled for some truly awful shots on the perimeter. They missed on those rare times they did get a decent look.
Kyle Korver made the Hawks’ only basket of the period on a jumper with 10:35 left. After that, they missed their last 13 shots before heading to the locker room to a round of boos from the home crowd.
If not for Indiana having its own offensive issues – the Pacers made only 36.6 percent (15 of 41) – the game would’ve been a blowout. As it was, the Hawks trailed just 37-29.
Atlanta’s woes shifted to the defensive end in the third. The Hawks continually got lost on switches, at one point leaving Hill all alone for a 3-pointer. He knocked down the shot and Harris looked around, his arms in the air wondering what was happening to his team.
While clearly seeming to sense his three-year run in Atlanta was over, Drew said he was ”really, really proud” of a team that many felt would have trouble just making the playoffs after trading away All-Star Joe Johnson and bringing in a bunch of guys in the final year of their contracts.
Even the coach knew he was a lame duck, having the option on his contact picked up last summer but not getting an extension.
”When you’ve got 11 or 12 guys on one-year deals, and the coach is in his last year, it could’ve gone either way,” said Drew, who has led the Hawks to three straight playoff appearances but couldn’t get out of the first round the last two. ”We hung in there and stuck with it.”
Notes: Atlanta G Jeff Teague has an awful finish to the series, going 3 of 16 in Game 5, and 3 of 12 in the deciding contest. … Hibbert had his first double-double of the series. … The Hawks finally shot well from the free-throw line (18 of 20) after struggling much of the series. Unfortunately, they couldn’t score consistently from anywhere else. … Hawks F Ivan Johnson was whistled for a technical for the second game in a row. Indiana’s Jeff Pendergraph also picked up a T.