After the first, he bounced as he backed down court.
After the second, he trotted away and slapped his rear end as if he were a horse. (Giddy up!)
After the third, he shook his head widely side to side as if not even he could believe the fortuitous bank.
After the fourth, he winked as he returned to the other end of the court.
Mike Scott made 3-pointers on four consecutive second-quarter possessions as the Atlanta Hawks celebrated early and survived late, ultimately beating the Indiana Pacers 107-97 Monday.
The freewheeling Hawks now lead the series 3-2 and are only one win from becoming the sixth No. 8 seed ever to upset a No. 1 seed. With Game 6 in Atlanta on Thursday, the Hawks could end the Pacers’ free fall before the weekend.
But maybe Indiana has just a little fight left.
Early in the third quarter, this seemed like every Hawks win in the series. They were spreading Indiana’s once-suffocating defense, confidently raining 3s.
Roy Hibbert picked up his fourth foul (in just 12 minutes of play). On the same stoppage, Lance Stephenson – whose earlier airball drew boos from the home Indiana crowd – earned a technical foul.
A couple minutes later, the Hawks led 80-50 – claiming the largest lead in the series by either team.
“We can close this gap,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel, who also had a third-quarter technical, implored his team before the fourth quarter.
At the time, Vogel’s words sounded hollow – the last gasps of a coach headed to the chopping block. But Vogel backed his words with necessary action.
The Pacers used three lineups in the fourth quarter, each smaller than the last:
- C.J. Watson-Lance Stephenson-Paul George-Chris Copeland-Ian Mahinmi
- C.J. Watson-Lance Stephenson-Paul George-Chris Copeland-David West
- C.J. Watson-George Hill-Paul George-Chris Copeland-David West
None of those three lineups had played together all season, but desperate times call for desperate measures.
Indiana began the fourth down 20. Copeland hit back-to-back 3-pointers. Watson found space. George got aggressive. All the while, the Pacers’ smaller and quicker players better defended Atlanta on the perimeter.
Multiple times, Atlanta’s lead fell to single digits, but Indiana had its best chance down nine with four minutes left and never got closer than eight .
The Pacers’ Game 5 comeback run out of time. Their season hasn’t necessarily.
Despite tonight’s setback, they should have renewed hope of reaching the second round. These small lineups can work.
As Atlanta’s lead dwindled against Indiana’s mobility, Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer was the one struggling to match up. Atlanta doesn’t have the juice to compete with the Pacers playing anywhere near even their average, and it showed.
It’s up to Vogel to keep the momentum going.
Hibbert never returned after sitting with his fourth foul, and he finished with zero points and zero rebounds. The mounting pressure on Vogel to bench his All-Star center has never been higher. With the Pacers’ season definitely and Vogel’s future with the team probably on the line, there’s little option now. Hibbert must sit.
And that still might not be enough.
The Hawks are capable of getting hot and stealing one game of two from nearly anyone in the league. Tonight, they made 15-of-27 from beyond the arc, setting an Atlanta franchise playoff record for 3-pointers made and an Indiana franchise playoff record 3-pointers allowed.
Korver made 5-of-10 from beyond the arc, and Shelvin Mack and DeMarre Carroll hit a couple, too. Scott also hit his fifth 3-point attempt in the second quarter.
After that one, he just ran back on defense. The Hawks draining 3s and beating Indiana has become business as usual.
Unless the Pacers learned in the fourth quarter how to save their season.