After Josh Smith opened the game by missing a mid-range jumper, the Hawks made their next eight shots (including two 3-pointers) to jump out to an early 18-4 lead. Heck, it was 9-0 in less time than it took my kids to rip through their Christmas presents yesterday.
Oh, and the nuclear start by the Hawks wasn't pleasant for the Pacers at either end. The Hawks found buckets easy to come by whether at the rim or behind the arc. In fact, all five starters for Atlanta scored in that 8-hoop stretch.
Meanwhile, the Pacers steadiest player all year, Mike Dunleavy was fueling the fire blazing at the other end with three uncharacteristic turnovers, a pair of which ended with Josh Smith flying until he reached the rim.
It was fitting that such a start held up because Atlanta's starters were the difference in this game and made it easy to figure out why the Hawks, now 21-8, are sharing real estate in the Eastern Conference with Boston and Orlando. They have multiple players having All-Star caliber seasons and all of them showed up big tonight. The Pacers, obviously, have none of the above, so what they showed up with tonight just wasn't good enough.
More thoughts and observations:
- The Pacers did put up a bit of a fight, fueled by the second unit and at various times, T.J. Ford, Tyler Hansbrough and Luther Head in particular. The crowd at Conseco Fieldhouse appeared pretty good and they were into it when the Pacers cut the lead to four points in the second quarter. But the starters for both teams returned to finish the half and the Hawks were up 11 at the break.
- Troy Murphy was the only starter to produce anything of consequence with 19 points and 12 rebounds. Take away Murph's night and the other four starters combined for only 16 points on 7 of 26 shooting from the floor.
- Jim O'Brien tried to shake things up after the half by starting T.J. Ford, Tyler Hansbrough and Brandon Rush for Earl Watson, Roy Hibbert and Mike Dunleavy. Unfortunately, the Hawks stuck with their starting lineup and the visitors started the third quarter with a 6-0 run. The Pacers did settle down and even things out, but the Hawks couldn't be denied when they pushed the issue.
- Speaking of not being denied, Al Horford had his way in the middle for the Hawks. Teaming with Josh Smith, the athletic front line made things look easy against the Pacers. Roy Hibbert never established his game and found the bench after some bonehead plays in the first half. On the night, Horford had a season-high 25 points and 19 rebounds. His game is simply fantastic.
- T.J. Ford continued offering a boost of energy off the bench, combined with Hansbrough. In fact, combined with the success late last year, this is the role Ford needs to play for this team. He brings an offensive presence off the bench that was big tonight. Now if the Pacers could only find a starting point guard. I hear there's a pretty good one in Lexington, Kentucky these days.
- Hansbrough brought threw his high-energy game into the mix driving defenders crazy as usual. Listening to the Hawks broadcast on NBALP Broadband, they were enamored with the way Hansbrough attacked the game. Dominique Wilkins was surprised by how many shots he had blocked but then kept the play alive. That's pretty much most of his offense around the hoop. Hansbrough doesn't mind taking a shot block as long as the ball remains alive so he can go back at it again. It's also funny how people act like those blocked shots never happened in college but now in the NBA he can't get his shot off. Hansbrough had plenty of shots blocked at Chapel Hill, but just kept coming at 'em. It wasn't all bull-in-a-china-shop for the rook, though. One play in particular was real sweet, setting up Al Horford in the low post with a little head and shoulders fake before hitting a nice baseline jump hook in rhythm.
- This seemed like a perfect game to offer A.J. Price some extended burn. With eight minutes left in the game, the Pacers were still scrapping, but down double-digits. Why not give the rook a look? Price did join Josh McRoberts for a few garbage minutes at the end of the game, but that's not worth consideration for either player.