Despite the legitimate troubles faced by the Pacers over the second half of the season, they still managed to finish with the one seed in the East.
They temporarily squandered the privileges that come with that accomplishment in an embarrassing Game 1 performance against the Hawks, and for a while, looked as though they might suffer the same fate in Game 2. But something changed at halftime, and Indiana finally played to their potential. The Pacers closed the third on a 24-6 run, and never looked back on the way to a 101-85 victory that evened the series at a game apiece.
The run was actually much bigger than that, and began in the second quarter.
Indiana trailed early, in part because the same things that hurt them in Game 1 continued to be a problem at the start. There was no answer for Jeff Teague, who put up seven points, five rebounds and three assists in less than 10 first quarter minutes. The Hawks got off eight three-point attempts in the first 12 minutes (which is a mission of theirs) and knocked down four of them.
But the Pacers chipped away before halftime, and used the top-ranked defense in the league to put this game away in the third. It was a 52-27 run when all was said and done, thanks to the Hawks shooting just 5-of-20 from the field in the third while Indiana went 12-of-16, with a 10-point advantage in the paint.
Paul George had a redemptive game, finishing with 27 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and four steals. The box score was less kind to Roy Hibbert, who was just 1-of-7 from the field with four rebounds in over 24 minutes. The matchups aren’t good for Hibbert in this series, and going smaller and quicker with guys like Ian Mahinmi (eight points) and Luis Scola (20 points in 19 minutes) seems to make more sense.
The Pacers played to their potential, while the Hawks seemed to give up without much of a fight in the third once Indiana exerted a bit of force. Atlanta needs to step up the intensity to have a chance in Game 3, while the Pacers simply need to share the ball offensively to generate open looks, and play the league’s best defense in order to reclaim home court advantage.