Perhaps the best result from the Indiana Pacers' first regular season road victory against the Atlanta Hawks since 2006 was the general lack of concern David West showed for Lance Stephenson in the post game interview. West appeared to feel Stephenson was fine despite Stephenson leaving the game in the third quarter with a lower back injury after getting upended and landing on his neck in what could've been a gruesome injury. Stephenson completed a three point play after hitting the circus shot and stayed in the game following the fall, but was taken to the back a few minutes later.
Stephenson downplayed the injury after the game according to Candace Buckner, who cited Stephenson as limping on his way to the trainer's room. While Stephenson will still need to be evaluated, the long layoff will help if Stephenson is deemed day-to-day with no long term concerns for his availability. Stephenson's exit will be a major talking point of tonight's outcome, but not deserving to be overshadowed was Indiana grabbing a rare win at Philips Arena, managing to pull out a win on the road on the second night of a back-to-back, something that's been less than a lock despite the team's 38-10 record.
The Pacers fought through an ugly first quarter, wrapping the quarter up on an 8-0 run and holding Atlanta scoreless for the final 3:42 of the first quarter for a 19-15 advantage. Atlanta shot just 26%, but the Pacers were turning the ball over at an alarming rate, something that didn't fix itself in the second quarter as shots began to fall for Atlanta. The Hawks used a 10-0 run to take a 36-31 lead en route to a 43-42 lead at halftime.
Indiana committed 14 turnovers in the first half, allowing the Hawks to score 17 points off turnovers as Atlanta shot 73% in the second quarter. All of this overshadowed a solid shooting first half for the Pacers, who shot 53.1%, but went into the break trailing due to their turnover issue. In the third quarter, the Indiana defense once again put the game on their backs, holding the Hawks to just 12 points in the quarter to build an 11-point lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Once there, the Pacers expanded their lead to 16, but in the final eight minutes, the Hawks slowly chipped away at Indiana's lead, with an 8-2 Atlanta run trimming the lead to four. A West bucket and Paul George dunk pushed the game back to eight with under two minutes remaining, but Atlanta continued to fight, cutting the lead to two at 86-84 with 14 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
C.J. Watson split his ensuing free throws, pushing the lead to three. Paul Millsap fought for a good three point look, but was fouled on the ground in a head's up play by Danny Granger. At the line Millsap missed the first free throw to split his pair, setting Granger up on the end to ice the game on two free throws, leading to Indiana's 89-85 win over the Hawks.
The game was played at Indiana's pace nearly the entire night and while the Hawks had two big pushes, Indiana's ability to find key buckets, primarily from West, that helped put the game in the win column for Indiana. West has proven a huge security blanket for the Pacers in tight games this year and carried the Pacers for 22 points and 10 rebounds, securing his fifth double of the season.
West was one of three Pacers in double figures, as the starters didn't allow a single double figure scorer from Atlanta's starting five. While the Hawks did have 46 bench points, they limited Atlanta's best playmakers all night, including just nine points for Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver and seven for Paul Millsap, who was just 2-11 from the field.
Paul George struggled to find his shot all night, scoring 18 points on 6-16 shooting with seven rebounds. George's shot selection wasn't great, nor was many of his plays getting back on defense. DeMarre Carroll did a great job getting back on George's attempts early in the game, which helped him reach eight points on the night. George also struggled with turnovers, committing five.
He and Stephenson, who reached double figures with 10, combined for 11 of Indiana's 19 turnovers. The Pacers, despite their turnover woes in the first half, did a much better job in the second half of ball control, with just five turnovers in the second half. George Hill only had five points on the night on 2-4 shooting, but had a game high seven assists with just a single turnover on the night, while helping limiting Atlanta's backcourt success.
The bench followed up their successful game last night with 26 points tonight, with eight points apiece from Luis Scola, Danny Granger, and C.J. Watson. All three played well off the bench despite Atlanta's bench doing a bulk of the damage for the Hawks tonight. Roy Hibbert had a better than average game at Philips Arena, scoring eight points on 4-10 shooting with six rebounds, but saddled himself with four fouls. Ian Mahinmi also played solid minutes despite a 1-3 night, getting a nice tip on his two points.
Indiana's win moves them to 38-10 on the season, but more importantly, gets them to 5-6 on the road in the second night of back-to-backs and 7-6 overall. The absurd amount of back-to-backs (and on the road as well) for the Pacers has done a great job leveling out Indiana's overall season record, but this was a nice win to grab. Their success against the Hawks in Atlanta has been non-existent except for their ability to close out a playoff series in their Game 6 win last May.
It's hard to believe this win will mean anything as far as Indiana's success or lack thereof moving forward on back-to-backs, but watching the Pacers work through their struggles with turnovers and fighting through runs by the Hawks was a pleasant sight. Indiana hasn't been opposed to rolling over when the Hawks pushed them at Philips Arena, but they fought back in a big way tonight, especially with Atlanta taking a 36-31 lead and putting the Pacers on their heels.
But West came through then and he came through in the fourth quarter. He hit a three to close the half and draw the deficit to one and hit two big field goals to keep the Hawks at arm's length and cripple their chance at pulling off the 16-point comeback. So the two day rest for the Pacers will be well deserved as they get ready for an ESPN showdown on Friday night against the Portland Trail Blazers.
The Blazers have remained one of the West's top teams since outgunning the Pacers at home in December, and this will be a great game for both teams to prove their stature among the league's elite. Unfortunately, the injury to Lance Stephenson might play an indirect factor if his lower back injury proves to be more serious than he and West led on, so be sure to stay tuned to Indy Cornrows for updates on his health and availability.