It's been the kind of season for the Indiana Pacers where reliance on the bench has been sketchy at best and off nights from a starter or two could spell doom for their chances at winning, and first half foul trouble from David West and a bruised hip injury from Lance Stephenson put the Pacers in a tough spot in Game 2 against the Atlanta Hawks. The end result was a huge bench display that helped the Pacers through the first half before working to put the cap on the Game 2 victory in the fourth quarter.
The game went back and forth in the opening quarter before a series of final second antics by the Hawks gave Indiana a pair of points, collecting the Atlanta frustrating into their first of three technical fouls on the night. But while the Pacers were able to hold the lead in the second quarter despite losing Stephenson and West with play from their bench, the Hawks fought hard in large part to their backcourt, carving up the Pacers transition defense. The Pacers topped the Hawks 59-50 at the break, including a 24-6 bench advantage, but allowed Atlanta to shoot 52% in the process.
For the second straight night, the Hawks would outshoot the Pacers from the field, the transition defense suffering into the second half as Atlanta outscored Indiana 17-6 in fast break points. The Pacers would eventually win the rebounding battle, but Atlanta's ability to stay alive on second chance points made it especially difficult for the Pacers to get the run that would push the lead above the 8-12 range. There's a lot of credit due to the Hawks for continuing to fight in this game despite being easily frustrated by the officials, which led Josh Smith to sit out all but 20 minutes of game action.
Well into the fourth quarter, the Pacers just couldn't shake Atlanta, a Smith three pointer cutting the game to ten. Out of the ensuing timeout, the Pacers finally got their run, closing the game on a 13-1 run fueled by George Hill and Gerald Green, capping the win for the Pacers, who advanced to 2-0 in their best-of-seven series.
Fresh off receiving his Most Improved Player Award, Paul George showed his wares early, scoring 16 first half points as part of a 27-point, eight rebound, three assist, and four steal night. While he didn't reach the triple-double and 18 free throw heights of Game 1, George shot a considerably better 11-21 from the field, looking every bit the best player in the series with his all around game, doing everything without a single turnover. George continued to give Kyle Korver fits on both ends, while being part of the receiving end of one of Indiana's many highlight dunks.
Gerald Green led a 38-point bench effort that helped overcome tonight's issues for West and Stephenson. Green had a trio of three pointers as part of 15 points, not only looking capable of leading the bench, but playing far better than he did in Game 1, where he did play fairly well, at least for how he had a majority of the season. Even though there was some struggles getting back on defense (especially in wanting to relish in his poster dunk on Josh Smith) as the Hawks were in transition at almost every opportunity.
Green wasn't the only bench player to look far more prepared, Jeff Pendergraph overcame a bit of a pensive and lacking Game 1 with a big eight point, seven rebound night, including three putbacks to serve the greater good of the Pacers. D.J. Augustin had eight as well, including back-to-back three pointers set up by George assists. Tyler Hansbrough had a quiet five point, six rebound night.
David West only had seven points in a shortened night due to foul trouble, but was still incredibly instrumental in tonight's game, not only in full court buzzer beating passes, but in how he flipped his own foul trouble into seven drawn fouls. This included three on Ivan Johnson and two on Josh Smith to limit the nights for two of Atlanta's rotation players. West went just 1-4 from the field, but got seven free throw attempts for his efforts.
Lance Stephenson went out in the first quarter with a bruised hip, but would return to start the second half, scoring four points, grabbing three boards, dishing out a pair of assists, and getting a steal in his short night's work. Stephenson will likely be sore tomorrow, but didn't appear to be hampered by the injury. Tonight's game had a brand of physicality to it, also causing some concerns when George Hill landed on his elbow in the fourth quarter, though he was able to play through whatever pains he had.
Hill's game came to the forefront in the fourth quarter, scoring 13 of his 22 points in the final period, as Indiana was finally able to land the knockout blow on the Hawks, hitting four three pointers on the night. For Atlanta, much of the talk was about Josh Smith needing a big game, but foul trouble limited Smith's night to 20 minutes, although he went 7-10 from the floor for 16 points in those minutes. Atlanta's real threats tonight were Jeff Teague and Devin Harris who combined for 33 points, killing the Pacers in transition throughout the night.
A quiet victory for the Pacers was their ability to hold Teague scoreless in the second half after he scored 16 in the first. Harris and Teague really deserve a lot of credit for keeping their team alive in much of the game as it seemed multiple times the Hawks were going to just fade into the night. It was in large part their efforts that prevented a total Atlanta collapse. Al Horford was one of three Hawks with a technical, but did have a 13 point, 10 rebound double double on the night.
Indiana has managed to rise to the challenge in both Game 1 & Game 2, going up 2-0 as the series shifts to Atlanta on Saturday. Having held home court have a chance to put this series on ice on the road, but will be faced with the task of an 11-game losing streak at Phillips Arena, as well as a Hawks team bound to have something to say about Indiana winning on their home floor. Saturday night's game will tip off at 7 p.m. EDT and will air on ESPN.