Pacers force a Game 7 with late comeback win over Hawks

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Near the end of the third quarter and well into the fourth of a Game 6 between the Hawks and the Pacers that had a top-seeded Indiana team facing elimination, it appeared as though Atlanta had overcome its early jitters and was ready to strike.

As the Pacers had built a nine-point lead and largely looked to be in control thanks to some dismal Hawks shooting, Mike Scott threw down a monster of a slam on Ian Mahinmi late in the third, and the momentum shift seemed palpable. Atlanta closed the period on a 15-5 run to take a three-point lead into the fourth, and the final two scores were both stellar plays by Jeff Teague inside, both coming over what’s left of Roy Hibbert.

It all was going Atlanta’s way, and this game seemed to be slipping away from the Pacers just as three others in this series had before. But the Hawks reminded us why they were the eight seed down the stretch, while Indiana managed to survive. The Pacers forced a Game 7 by closing this one on a 16-4 run to earn a 95-88 victory.

Atlanta, remember, finished the season six games below .500 for a reason. Their style offensively doesn’t lend itself to easy victories, considering they shoot threes at both a high volume and a low percentage. The Hawks were second in the league in attempts per game from beyond the arc, but middle of the pack in terms of percentage. In Game 6, they shot just 9-of-35 from three-point distance, good for a mark of only 25.7 percent.

While the Hawks made silly mistakes down the stretch to give this one away — poor shot selection, terrible turnovers and an unawareness of the time remaining and the game situation — the Pacers turned to a rock-solid veteran to close the game out.

It wasn’t Paul George who made the critical plays in the final moments, though George was big for his team overall with 24 points and eight rebounds. It was David West who simply refused to let his team lose, scoring 12 of his 24 points in the final period in 9:26 on the floor, including the driving basket with 46 seconds left that put his team up for good.

This was a gritty, season-saving win for the Pacers, on a night where it would have been easy to fold given the way this series has played out. It’s all about surviving and advancing for Indiana, and a Game 7 on their home floor on Saturday now gives them the perfect opportunity to do exactly that.