The Hawks had proven to be a bad matchup for these top-seeded Pacers, who came into Game 4 trailing two games to one and not really having a whole lot of answers.
Indiana had shown an inability to adjust, Roy Hibbert had been ineffective to the point where he’d been benched, and Atlanta was playing with a level of confidence that made you believe that one more win, and a commanding series lead along with it, wasn’t out of the question.
But the Pacers solved some of their problems on Saturday, coming away with a gritty 91-88 victory that was anything but easy, and reclaimed home court advantage by evening the series at two games apiece.
This was a game that required resiliency and sense of team to get the job done, and the Pacers battled back time and again in order to be able to succeed. Indiana saw an early eight-point lead erased before pushing it back to seven to end the first. They then scored just 13 second quarter points, and found themselves trailing by double digits just before halftime. The Atlanta lead was 10 midway through the third, before the Pacers fought back to tie it just a few short minutes later.
And in the fourth, Indiana was down by five with 4:37 to play, following a three-pointer by Jeff Teague that felt like it could have been a here-we-go-again moment, if only the Pacers had gone down that dark road once again.
There were sketchy possessions down the stretch from both teams, and it wasn’t a smooth ride. But back-to-back three-pointers from Paul George and David West put the Pacers up for good with just over two minutes remaining, and a drive from George Hill with 56 seconds left was the game’s final score.
Again, it was far from easy. When Indiana had a chance to seal it at the free throw line late, George missed two free throws that left the door open for a potential disaster. But a forced three from Pero Antic was missed on the final possession, and the end result will be all that matters for a Pacers team that was facing desperation.
What may be potentially even bigger than the victory is the chemistry that was apparent as the Pacers fought to stay alive. Hibbert didn’t play down the stretch for the second consecutive game, but was cheering wildly on the sidelines anytime his teammates made a positive play. Lance Stephenson was seen as the voice of reason at one point, trying to calm his teammates from celebrating too excessively after West’s huge three, knowing that there was plenty of work that still needed to be done.
George had the type of game that made us marvel at his skill set during last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, finishing with 24 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and a couple of blocked shots, while shooting 10-of-18 from the field in almost 44 minutes of action.
This feels like a building block game for the Pacers, especially with two of the final three games of the series (if it should go seven) being played on their home floor. The league’s top defense during the regular season looked like it for extended stretches in this one, and the chemistry that was missing for the last two months appeared to return just in time to save Indiana’s season.