For the first time this postseason, the Indiana Pacers showed a real sense of urgency, recognizing the importance of a Game 5 win at home in a 2-2 series. They may have grabbed fairly easy wins in Game 1 & 2, but it was clear they weren't prepared to get punched back by the Atlanta Hawks in the following two games. Of course, for the Pacers, who turned a back-and-forth battle into an ever growing lead early in the second quarter, it's easier to do this at home. But those home victories are the only ones Indiana truly needs in order to grab the series victory.
Josh Smith was keyed in again early for Atlanta, with the Hawks taking a 31-28 lead early in the second quarter. But David West stepped up to change the entire complexion of the game, scoring 12 points in Indiana's ensuing 13-2 run. The Pacers closed the half strong, shooting over 50%, but Atlanta found themselves within striking distance despite the Pacers' defense stepping up to limit the Hawks' offense.
Out of the half, the Pacers stormed out on an 18-5 run queued by the Indiana starters and Atlanta falling apart behind Smith's foul total quickly climbing to five, and a pair of Hawks technicals, giving Indiana a commanding 20-point lead. From there, the Hawks found themselves the favor of endless whistles, nearly all seeming to go against the Pacers, putting Atlanta at the line to inch them back within striking distance. In the third, the Hawks shot 19 free throws as part of 37 on the night.
Indiana did a good job remaining mostly composed despite frustrating rising from the amount of whistles (Frank Vogel picked up a tech for his troubles), using another 13-2 run in the fourth quarter to put the game on ice, winning comfortably 106-83. The Pacers would end up shooting over 50% while holding Atlanta to just 33%. The improved play was spurred by Vogel's rotation shuffling, which matched Atlanta's lineups throughout the night. When Atlanta went big, Vogel put in Jeff Pendergraph at the SF to match up (incredibly well) against Smith, effectively ending Smith's night as a threat as he scored just 14 points on 5-16 shooting sitting most of the second half with five fouls.
The Pacers' starters were the stars tonight, but Vogel awarded ample time to Pendergraph and D.J. Augustin, as well as Ian Mahinmi in some foul situations. David West was the best player on the floor tonight, finally piecing together a great game in this series after four average to poor performances. West led the Pacers with 24 points on 11-16 shooting, carrying Indiana on his back for stretches tonight in a way David West can.
Paul George provided plenty of support, scoring 21 on a wildly efficient 7-8 shooting, taking advantage of his matchups throughout the night. George had a double double on the night with 10 rebounds, also getting five assists. George Hill continued to struggle from the three point line, but his lone three proved a valuable trio of points as it bounced around the rim before finally rolling in. Hill did have a solid game beyond that, scoring 15, adjusting better on defense at times, and dishing 10 assists.
Roy Hibbert played big tonight, scoring 18, 12 of them coming at the free throw line, where he spent a great deal of his time, grabbing nine rebounds and three assists. The Pacers rebounding edge was tremendous, led by Lance Stephenson, who had 12, as the Pacers topped Atlanta 51-28. Of course, Atlanta's poor shooting coupled with Indiana's solid night gave the Pacers more opportunities, but they limited Atlanta to just six offensive rebounds. The Hawks only had one key advantage in tonight's game as the Pacers weathered their third quarter foul issues to fall just points shy of Atlanta at the free throw line, with Atlanta forcing 17 turnovers, winning points off turnovers 15-2. Josh Smith was key early in forcing turnovers, totaling four steals in the first half.
So now the series shifts back to Atlanta as the Pacers will face their biggest challenge of the series: a close out game at Philips Arena. Indiana's 13-game losing streak in Atlanta will be on the line and decide whether the Pacers will return to Indianapolis for a Game 7 or face the winner of the New York/Boston series. The Celtics were able to top the Knicks tonight to stave off elimination in Game 5 of their series, potentially helping the Pacers by not allowing the Knicks any extra rest should the two teams up 3-2 in their series advance.
The Pacers will play Friday night in Game 6 against the Hawks.