Just like that, the series sits at 2-2. The Indiana Pacers failed to take advantage of a strong start and couldn't make enough plays (or rather, keep the Atlanta Hawks from making enough plays) down the stretch to steal a Game 4 victory as the series is now guaranteed to return to Atlanta for a potential deciding game for one of these two teams. The Pacers once again found themselves in familiar territory as Game 3, but had the game in hand after a 21-14 advantage. From that point, it became Atlanta's game as the Hawks ran off a 22-3 run to give them a lead they would hold on through the rest of the game.
The Hawks were ruthless in the second quarter, hitting everything in sight, including seven three pointers, extending their lead to 18 in the third quarter. It was at that point the Pacers' league best defense finally showed life, holding Atlanta to a single point in the following six minutes as the Pacers climbed back in on a 15-1 run, but the 4-6 point wall proved daunting as the Hawks were there to respond with ever push the Pacers would make in the game's final 15 minutes.
Atlanta would hit four three pointers in the final quarter, each one an extra stake in the Pacers as Al Horford would salvage Atlanta's free throw struggles by going 6-8 from the line in the fourth. It all proved to be just too much despite a solid offensive quarter from the Pacers. Josh Smith had his best game of the series and for the first time made the case that he might actually be the best player in the series, putting up a 29 & 11 double double. Kyle Korver had five three pointers as part of his 19-point night and Al Horford's 18 gave Atlanta three of the game's four leading scorers.
For the Pacers, the effort, at least in the second half, was there. But the 18-point deficit was simply too much to play out of. But Indiana had no one to blame but themselves for getting into another huge deficit, appearing to have learned nothing from the beatdown they received in Game 3. The Hawks shot 55% in the first half and dominated the glass, so it was a refreshing sign when Atlanta had just one field goal in 13 minutes of action in the second half, including a 12-point third quarter.
Paul George led the Pacers with 21 points and 12 rebounds, grabbing four steals, but was hampered with four turnovers. George was still overmatched against Smith, and had little success making plays with the ball throughout the game, even against the smaller Devin Harris. Roy Hibbert was largely effective tonight with his 14 point night, but was limited with foul trouble throughout the second half.
Hibbert was spelled by Ian Mahinmi, who provided some incredibly solid minutes, being the defensive anchor throughout Indiana's third quarter comeback, Atlanta's only field goal in the final 10 minutes of the quarter coming when Mahinmi was sidelined with infection control. Mahinmi was the only bench player truly of note, as chronicled by the incredibly heavy minutes played by the starters tonight.
D.J. Augustin had eight, but was pitiful when he attempted to make plays with the ball, Gerald Green was paramount in Atlanta's 22-3 run, and Tyler Hansbrough continued to have a tough night against the bigger Atlanta lineup. David West got it together enough to have a solid second half, but has continued to be frustrated by what the Hawks are throwing at him.
George Hill was excellent out of the gate while he was attacking the basket, scoring 12 on the night and Lance Stephenson was big when he was able to open up, filling the stat sheet with 10 points, nine rebounds, and eight assists. But solid stretches and nice plays haven't been enough for the Pacers on the road in this series, falling 102-91.
While there is a considerable amount of disappointment as the Pacers face a must win on Wednesday, it's important to remember this is what the Hawks do in the playoffs. This, their sixth first round series since their return to the playoffs in 2008, is shaping up just like all of their others. The Hawks have gone six games in every first round series, this year now included, including three going the full seven.
But there's a reason their series often go the distance, thanks in large part to their home/away record. Tonight's win moves the Hawks to 16-3 at home in the first round since 2008, but will face a 3-15 record when they travel back to Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Wednesday. Suffice to say, it's frustrating, but shouldn't be a huge surprise, especially when weighing in Indiana's struggles against the Hawks, including their now 13-game losing streak at Philips Arena.
At any rate, Game 5 will be important for the Pacers as the series now comes down to a best of three. The Pacers will return home on Wednesday with the tipoff pending Oklahoma City and Houston's Game 4 conclusion.