It took six quarters for the Indiana Pacers to finally make an impact in the 2014 NBA Playoffs, but things fell into line once they did, flipping the script against the Atlanta Hawks by putting on a third quarter clinic en route to a Game 2 victory at home to tie the series at 1-1. The Pacers outscored the Hawks 31-13 in the third quarter, one of the most welcome 12 minute stretches in Indiana's season, especially following another terrible first half where the Hawks continued to have their way with the Pacers.
Indiana opened up with better energy and execution than they showed in Game 1 by jumping out to a 7-0 lead, but that quickly dissipated with the Hawks hitting five of their next six shots to jump up 13-11. Many of the same issues began to crop up as Atlanta settled into a first half groove, spreading the floor with extreme efficiency, switches with Roy Hibbert onto Paul Millsap and Paul George onto Jeff Teague making little difference.
Pero Antic or Millsap, the threes continued to rain, and the Hawks moved ahead 38-27 four minutes into the second quarter. The Pacers were only that close thanks to great shooting for Luis Scola, who scored the first six points of the second quarter for Indiana while Atlanta continued to shoot the lights out. Every time the Pacers seemed to make a move and find a groove, the Hawks continued to respond with big shot after big shot.
Indiana climbed to within four at the break, thanks in large part to Scola and George's play, with some three pointers from C.J. Watson to make it a 52-48 Hawks advantage. All told, the damage the Hawks put on Indiana defense was 50% shooting, 8-16 from three point range, and 27 combined points from Millsap and Teague (15 & 12 respectively).
George Hill woke up in the third quarter, attacking the basket for four quick points in the third, but the Hawks continued to match Indiana point for point, leading 59-55 three minutes into the second half. Roy Hibbert hit a pair at the free throw line to jump start a 7-0 Pacers run to put Indiana in the lead, the Pacers only able to push the lead to five before Eltron Brand trimmed it to three before an Indiana timeout.
Out of the timeout, Hill and David West teamed up for six points as the Pacers closed the third on an 11-0 as part of a 18-0 run that bled into the fourth to blow the game wide open. All of a sudden the Pacers looked engaged, played with passion, and more importantly, came up defensively as the lead exploded to 27 halfway through the fourth quarter as Indiana cruised towards a 101-85 victory to tie the series heading into Game 3.
The energy of the Pacers in the second half was night day from the first six quarters. Their defensive intensity came to life thanks to active movement and switches. Ian Mahinmi provided excellent minutes on the defensive end in the second half, staying out of the box score for the most part outside of two blocks, but his activity proving a huge swing as the game changed shape in the third quarter.
The Pacers outscored the Hawks 31-13 in the third quarter alone, as part of a second half where the Pacers outscored Atlanta 45-15 in the first 17 and a half minutes. Without a doubt, the Pacers were better defensively, but they were helped along the way by an officiating crew that was whistle happy in the first half allowing more activity for the Pacers in the second half.
Atlanta also came back down to earth shooting. Whether the Hawks were simply playing up to their healthy roster, the fact remains they were hitting just about everything in sight the first six quarters of this series. The Hawks hit 19 three pointers heading into the second half, but once there, hit just one three pointer, a Kyle Korver triple 53 seconds into the third quarter.
The Hawks missed 11 straight three point attempts, including five during a six minute stretch the Pacers held the Hawks scoreless from the field. Millsap and Teague were made non-factors in the second half, scoring six points between the two after their big first halves. On the other side of the ball, the Pacers found a rhythm of their own thanks in large part to Hill's huge second half, him scoring 15 points in the second half. Hill's play in the second half, attacking the basket, involving himself in the offense despite some plays of ill advised selflessness, was exactly what Indiana needed.
The rotation in the second half also worked in Indiana's favor tonight, with Mahinmi and Watson getting ample time, while Hibbert and Evan Turner did not. Despite being bogged down by foul trouble, David West was a big part of Indiana's success in the third quarter as part of his eight points on 4-5 shooting and six assists. Lance Stephenson was another player who saw his minutes dropped in the second half, but he proved instrumental in Indiana's early success in the third quarter with eight points and five assists.
The Pacers assisted on 25 of their 36 field goals, with Paul George dishing out six of his own. George was great early shooting the ball, but was quiet offensively until the end of the second quarter and into the third. George had a game high 27 points on 9-16 shooting with 10 rebounds, six assists, and four steals, with only a single turnover. With West's foul trouble, that made plenty of room for Luis Scola, who turned his field goal donut from the first night into 20 points on 9-14 shooting, with seven rebounds capping off his bounce back night.
Things are right again for the Pacers, at least until Thursday night's tipoff in Atlanta. The Pacers finally saw things go their way in the second half of tonight's game, but weeks upon weeks of poor play certainly creates plenty of hesitation to buy into any potential momentum that might've come from this win. The Pacers have just two wins at Philips Arena since 2006, including a 1-1 record this year.
But tonight's game showcased Indiana at their best: active ball movement and an offense that succeeded due to their defense. Atlanta's field goal percentage dropped from 50% at the half to 39% for the game, and it turns out the 8th seeded Hawks aren't the greatest shooting team in the NBA after all.
That doesn't minimize the struggles Indiana will likely have as this series moves forward, but tonight was a must win and they did what they had to do to avoid falling into an 0-2 hole and it's better to see the Pacers piece together a vintage second half beatdown as they get ready for two crucial road games in Atlanta. The Thursday night tipoff will be 7 p.m. ET tip on NBA TV or Fox Sports Indiana locally.