The Hawks accomplished what they wanted to in the first two games of their series with Indiana by winning Game 1 on Saturday. That said, they had the opportunity to do much more in Game 2 and let it get away from them.
In the first four minutes of the second quarter the Hawks led by 11 points and took a four point-lead into halftime. However, they went cold in the second half — frozen, really — and fell 101-85.
Here are three observations from Tuesday’s loss.
The Hawks closed the Pacers’ lead to 68-65 with 3:34 left in the third quarter on Elton Brand’s first basket of the game. Then, they didn’t score for the rest of the period.
It was so bad that they didn’t score again until Lou Williams broke the cold snap with 8:59 left in the fourth quarter. That allowed the Pacers to go on a 19-0 run and establish an 87-65 lead. The game was basically over at that point.
The Hawks had shot very well until the third quarter, going 19-for-38 (50 percent). But in the third they were 5-for-20.
After Jeff Teague scored a career-playoff high of 28 points in Game 1, the Pacers made the high-profile move of putting forward Paul George on him defensively. That didn’t matter in the first quarter, as Teague had seven points, five rebounds and three assists and George was minus-5 at the end of the period. Teague had 12 points at halftime but he was part of that third-quarter frigidity as he only had two points.
It was not so much that Indiana, the league leader in opponent’s field goal percentage, played exceptional defense. The Hawks simply couldn’t make shots.
With seven minutes left in regulation, Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer had essentially conceded defeat and pulled his starters.
In Game 1, 33-year-old Argentine Luis Scola scored two points. For the season, he averaged 7.6 off the bench.
So no one would have fingered him as the Pacers’ savior but that’s what he became in Game 2. In the second quarter, as the Hawks built that 11-point lead, they were threatening to pull away and make a potential Pacers’ comeback arduous.
When no other Pacer was scoring, Scola was. He scored the first six points for the Pacers in the second quarter. Overall, he had 11 points in the period (11 of the Pacers’ first 13 in the second), allowing Indiana to hang around until the rest of its team awoke from its slumber, which was what happened. The Pacers cut the gap to 52-48 at halftime.
Scola finished with 20 points, second on the Pacers to George’s 27, in a very efficient 19 minutes. Perversely, this bodes well for the Hawks going forward. Again, they kept a lot of the Pacers’ big guns in check. David West had eight and Roy Hibbert six.
How often going forward is Luis Scola going to score 20 points?
NBA teams that take a 2-0 series advantage have won 239 of 255 series (93.7 percent). As badly as the Pacers played in Game 1, it was probably unrealistic for the Hawks to sweep the first two games.
The Pacers are the Eastern Conference’s top seed for a reason and home-court advantage is important. It seemed to play a role as the Pacers went on their game-changing 19-0 run and they fed off the crowd.
The good news was that the Hawks did not fold early when they took a punch from the Pacers. The desperate Pacers raced out to a 7-0 lead but the Hawks calmly took a 13-11 lead just past the midpoint of the quarter.
Such composure should serve them well, especially as the series turns to Atlanta.
In addition, Hawks forward Kyle Korver did not record a shot in the first and finished with only three points on 1-for-5 shooting, as the Pacers appeared to make it a defensive priority to deny him the ball. In Game 1, the sharp-shooting Korver had 12 points at halftime.
Seven-game series are a chess match, as they say, and no doubt Budenholzer will come up with something for Game 3 to counter what the Pacers did and the Hawks will make sure to get Korver more shots.
Lastly, the Hawks only had 13 assists. They averaged 24.9 during the regular season, second-best in the NBA. That gives them enormous room for improvement.
Overall, they laid a positive foundation in Game 1 and built on it in the first half of Game 2. They’ll scrap the second half of Tuesday’s game and have plenty of positives to work on moving forward.