Second-half turnovers, particularly two late ones in the fourth quarter by Game 3 hero Jeff Teague, helped spell a 91-88 defeat in Game 4 at Philips Arena. The Hawks and Pacers are now squared at 2-all in this best-of-seven series.
Forward Paul Millsap, who carried Atlanta on his back with a career-playoff best and game-high 29 points (10 of 18 shooting), acknowledged the still-confident Hawks "let one slip away."
The Hawks held a 48-42 halftime lead, in large part because of the way they managed turnovers. They had five to the Pacers' nine.
Prior to the Hawks seizing a 10-point lead in the third quarter, Millsap was forced to the bench with two quick fouls. He sat for about six minutes, while the Pacers whittled the deficit to one before his return.
In the second half, the Hawks committed 10 turnovers, with a number being forced the Pacers defense, which ranks as the NBA's top team in opponents' field-goal percentage.
Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer thought the turnovers were a combination of the Pacers' defense and his team's own mistakes.
"Probably both," he said. "I think, obviously, we've referenced our execution a couple times already. It needs to improve, it needs to get better, but I think it's always important to give them credit. They're a good defensive team.
"Individually, they've got some guys that are good, but it's what we've been seeing for four games now. I think we've got to screen better, we've got to attack more. All the things we've been stressing and hopefully that will reduce our turnovers and make us more efficient."
Even when the Hawks didn't commit turnovers, they went deep into the shot clock in the second half (one 24-second violation early in the fourth quarter); and that often produced bad shots. For the game, they shot 35.7 percent -- their worst shooting for the series, by far.
With 2:26 left in the game and the Hawks leading 85-83, Teague drove the baseline and stepped out of bounds. Paul George (24 points) made a three-pointer coming off a screen on the following possession, snagging a lead (86-85) the Pacers would never relinquish.
On the following possession, Teague and Paul Millsap, harassed by a pair of Indiana defenders, miscommunicated and turned the ball over again with 1:54 left. After that, David West (18 points) made another 3-pointer, boosting the Pacers' advantage to four.
Teague was asked if Indiana cranked up its defense in the second half.
"No, they didn't do anything different," he said. "We were just unfortunate."
With 32.9 seconds left and the Hawks down three, Millsap had a miscommunication with Pero Antic and threw the ball out of bounds.
DeMarre Carroll thought the Hawks got careless with the ball.
"Yeah, I think we had a lot of turnovers, a lot of unforced turnovers," he said. "Like I said, we were up by 10 ... and we just let them back in the game. We've just got to get back and learn from this and learn and grow from this. It's a three-game series, and now we've got to go and take one."
In the final minutes, Kyle Korver was fouled attempting a three-pointer and made three free throws -- an occurrence spurred on by a Pacers' lane violation on the third free throw.
Atlanta twice had a chance to tie in the final minute but could not pull it off. Down 91-88 with 13.3 seconds left, Millsap drove to the basket and attempted a two-point shot but missed.
Millsap said the idea was to get a quick basket and then foul. But it didn't work out.
The Hawks fouled George on the ensuing possession but he missed both free throws, giving Atlanta one more chance.
The Hawks inbounded the ball to Millsap who looked for a shooter. Again, blanketed by a defender and with his back to the basket, he passed in the waning seconds to the nearest teammate -- Antic -- but the rookie's three-point attempt clanged awry.
Antic has struggled in this series offensively. He shot 3 for 7 in Game 1, but he's only 3 for 20 in Games 2-4.
Nonetheless, his teammates and Budenholzer still have faith in Antic.
The final play was run for Korver, who finished with 15 points, but Indiana defended it well. Korver said after the game he was not open.
"We would have loved to have won," Korver said. "Stuff happens in the playoffs. We had an opportunity tonight for sure. It didn't happen, but we don't have to beat ourselves up too much. We have to get ready for Game 5."