The least glamorous first round matchup in the NBA Playoffs went out unnoticed, fittingly just as it had started and been played in through its entire duration. But aside from chiding remarks of the series' lack of appeal and quality from people with vocal authority who would tell you they didn't watch a single second, it didn't end in a whimper. The Atlanta Hawks made one last stand against the Indiana Pacers, a three point game with two minutes to go being the difference between a 4-2 Indiana victory and a Game 7 on Sunday.
For the Pacers, it was not only a rectifying victory in a place they hadn't win at since 2006, but a series clincher, wasting little time celebrating as the series moves forward following an eerily similar Game 6 between Boston & New York. Indiana pushed the game in their favor throughout the second quarter, successfully shutting down the Hawks' ability to score in transition and rebound. The Hawks would go ice cold from the floor, missing their final 14 shot attempts of the first half (a streak that bled well into the third quarter), scoring just nine points, being held under 30 and at 23.7%.
David West's layup to close the half was a massive boost for West and the Pacers, as West struggled to get his shot on track. The layup began a 24:01 stretch where West scored 19 of his 21 points, hitting all of his trademarks while stepping up defensively, getting four blocks and leading the Pacers in the subdued post game huddle. West's value to the Pacers is immeasurable and tonight was a great example of what he does for this team when Paul George isn't even a factor offensively, scoring four points on 2-10 shooting.
It's why the Pacers aren't forced to go to George on a night he simply doesn't have it. Someone like West keeps him from needing to shoot 7-23 to put his team in the win column. George having 10 attempts isn't a slap to George's game, it's the way the Pacers are built; to ride the success of a player like West, to not go where the ball isn't going to find the basket. George had one attempt in the fourth quarter, but don't take it as a bad sign. George did have seven assists, seven rebounds, and two steals for his efforts, however, still marking up a team high in the plus/minus category for conversation's sake.
George Hill joined West with 21, grabbing seven rebounds in another big rebounding advantage for the Pacers, who won the glass 53-35. Hill had plenty of success attacking the basket and has been a much brighter spot defensively since he hasn't become the lone challenge for Jeff Teague. Lance Stephenson had another near double-double, pairing eight points with 11 rebounds, dishing out six assists. Stephenson left the game late with a knee injury, but would bounce back and return to the game in its closing minutes.
Roy Hibbert had a big game around the basket, landing a 17 & 11 double-double on 8-14 shooting, helping the Pacers on the defensive end despite a late game surge from Al Horford and the Hawks, trimming a 19-point lead down all the way to three. Tyler Hansbrough had just six minutes, but six points on 1-1 shooting to lead the bench. While there wasn't much in the way of offense, Jeff Pendergraph and Ian Mahinmi made some big defensive plays in the second half and D.J. Augustin had some bright spots that were unfortunately marred by a lot of bad mistakes.
The win did snap Indiana's 13-game losing streak in Philips Arena, the lone road win in a series defined by blowout home wins. Indiana was well on their way to another double digit win before the Atlanta surge, but a great showcase from the Pacers late to get the necessary stops and the necessary buckets was a sign that can hopefully prove to be positive as the Pacers will travel to Madison Square Garden to face the New York Knicks.
The Knicks!? it's about time, isn't it? The Pacers and Knicks will square off in the playoffs for the first time since 2000, their seventh postseason matchup after a thrilling and heated rivalry that resulted in six series in eight years between 1993-2000. The Pacers hold an 18-17 advantage in a 3-3 series split, with three series deciding the Eastern Conference Championship. It's historic, it's fresh, it's exciting! The series will tip off Sunday.