Three Hits: Hawks offense struggles in Game 7 loss to Pacers
If it was a best-of-three or best-of-five series Atlanta would be headed to the second round. Instead top-seeded Indiana found its groove while the Hawks' offense went cold in a 92-80 Game 7 loss.
Paul Millsap finished with 15 points and 17 rebounds but was 6-for-21 from the field.
Pat Lovell / USA TODAY Sports
By John Manasso
The story of the Hawks' loss in this series will be one of missed opportunities. The Hawks held late leads at home in both Games 4 and 6 but ended up losing both games and went 1-2 at Philips Arena in the series.
In the final analysis, it was probably too much to expect of them to win three times on the road at Indiana, the top seed in the Eastern Conference, in order to win the series. It was a great effort overall but it fell short with a 92-80 loss to the Pacers on Saturday in Game 7.
Here are three observations:
1. Scoring drought
The Hawks were in the game, leading early and into the second quarter. Then they simply stopped scoring and their struggles went on for the equivalent of an entire period.
Jeff Teague scored with 6:12 left in the second quarter, which proved to be the Hawks' final field goal of the half. The Hawks did not score again until Paul Millsap made two free throws with 36.6 seconds left, his first points of the half (more on that later). The Hawks were outscored 18-4 to end the quarter and trailed by 11 at the half.
A play at the end of the half symbolized the Hawks' struggles. Teague beat a defender off the dribble and appeared to have an open path to the basket. He readied for a one-handed tomahawk slam but out of nowhere Indiana's 6-foot-11 Ian Mahinmi blocked the shot cleanly and the clock expired to end the half.
The worst part was of that that lack of scoring was that it continued into the third quarter. After Millsap and Teague shaved four points off the Pacers' lead early, the Hawks again went cold.
As a result, from the 6:00 mark of the second period to the 6:00 mark of the third quarter, the Hawks scored nine points. With about five minutes left in the third quarter, Fox Sports South's Bob Rathbun quoted a statistic that the Hawks had made four of their last 33 field goal attempts.
With 4:11 left in the third quarter, they trailed by 17. That's where the game was won and lost.
2. George, Hibbert too much
The Pacers got a huge effort from a player they expected it from and another from whom they did not. Paul George was dominant, scoring a game-high 30 points on 11-of-23 shooting. He also had 11 rebounds.
George has been much maligned through the Pacers' late-season slide and, at times, in their struggles in this series but on the whole he was very good against the Hawks and saved his best for last. If he truly wants to be counted among the game's elite players, then Saturday's effort was a step in the right direction.
The much bigger surprise, however, was the play of All-Star center Roy Hibbert. For much of the series, Hibbert had become a non-presence and it was debated in the media as to whether Pacers coach Frank Vogel would and should bench him. After averaging 24.5 minutes in the first four games, Hibbert played only 12 in each of Games 5 and 6 and barely registered in the box score.
To his credit, Vogel stuck with Hibbert and got the big effort from the 7-2 center in Game 7 when he needed it. Hibbert built up his confidence early by making four of his five attempts in the first quarter.
In the second half -- during which Hibbert would have sat in prior games -- he proved a very effective defensive presence, playing into the Hawks' offensive struggles. He blocked five shots in the game and finished with 13 points and seven rebounds in 31 minutes.
If Hibbert had played the way he did more often in the series, it would have ended much sooner.
3. Hawks starters struggle
You knew the Hawks were in big trouble when Millsap, their only All-Star and leading scorer, had two points at halftime and went 0-for-9 from the field. For the game, he shot 6-for-21 and finished with 15 points.
DeMarre Carroll also had one of his worst games of the series in Game 7 and finished the night on the bench. He shot 1-for-7 and had two points.
Pero Antic's struggles continued. Antic, who entered the game shooting 18.9 percent in the series, went 0-for-5 and was held scoreless. In the last four games of the series, Antic shot 2-for-26.
Getting 17 combined points from three of their starters was not going to be enough to allow the Hawks to win. Throw in a scoreless effort from Lou Williams, one of their top scorers off the bench, and it simply was not in the cards for the Hawks on Saturday.