By showing some of the best energy they have had in the entire series, the Indiana Pacers appeared to be in good shape in the first quarter, leading 21-20. They held the Atlanta Hawks to 1-4 from the three point arc, with ball movement really setting the Pacers up in a good position, but once the second quarter started, the game was decided in two minutes. Mike Scott entered in the second quarter, hitting four straight threes in the first 2:39 of the second quarter as the Hawks used a 15-0 run to jump ahead 33-21.
Things got a whole lot worse before they got better, with the Hawks continuing to pummel the three point arc, pushing their lead to 20 halfway through the quarter and all the way up to 25 with two minutes left in the half, leading 57-32. The Pacers managed to "trim" the lead to 21 at the half as the Hawks blew up offensively with a 41-19 second quarter victory, shooting 82% in the quarter, 9-11 from three point arc, and getting 17 points from Scott and 13 from Shelvin Mack.
A pair of Kyle Korver threes to open the third helped put Indiana in a difficult position despite a big opening to the quarter from Lance Stephenson, who scored Indiana's first nine points. A Stephenson technical helped set off an 11-1 Atlanta run as the Hawks pushed their advantage to 30 points at 80-50. From that point, the Pacers began a trek back into the game, finding their energy from the first quarter to claw within 20 at the end of the third.
Chris Copeland had two threes to open the fourth and C.J. Watson followed with Indiana's next eight points, as the Pacers climbed to within 13. David West and Watson helped push the game into single figures, but a series of missed opportunities throughout the quarter and a 27-footer from Korver to push the lead back to 12 helped leave the Pacers just a little short in their comeback, falling 107-97, facing elimination as the series shifts back to Atlanta for Game 6.
As bad as tonight was, and it was really bad, the Pacers won three of the fourth quarters. But Indiana allowed the game to be decided in the first half of the second quarter. Scott's 17 points came on five three pointers, all makes. Scott's first two threes were huge, but his third, a bit of a heat check lob that banked in, really shook the Pacers, as Scott mounted two more threes on top of that to push the lead to 21.
It's easy to expect better fortitude despite Indiana's second unit really getting run into the ground, but Atlanta has continued to do this throughout the series: every time it appears their three point shooting might take a step back and come back down to some kind of manageable levels, they explode and thrive on the most fickle shot in basketball.
That's part of what makes this such a frustrating series. No matter the adjustments, no matter the attempts at improving, the Hawks continue to look for the three point shot, and continue to find success. History suggests it's not a long term solution, but four games out of seven doesn't have to be a long term solution and considering the Hawks are still shooting 30 threes a game, it's a lot easier to live with low 30% nights, though the Hawks went above and beyond with a 15-27 night tonight.
Indiana was able to neutralize the effectiveness of Jeff Teague, but it mattered little when he and Paul Millsap were able to sit the entire second quarter due to the play of Scott and Mack. He's proven to be one of the three real keys driving Atlanta's success this series, but for the first time in the series, Atlanta didn't need all three elements to come through in order to seal the win. The extra effectiveness of three point shooting helped, but so too did another lopsided free throw advantage.
The Hawks have not only shot their way into a 3-2 series lead, but they've gotten to the line with as much success. The Pacers have done a horrible job this series at not allowing Atlanta free trips to the line. They shot 33 times tonight, going 26-33, while Indiana managed just 11-18 from the line. Even for Indiana's 18 attempts, only four players reached the line, all of them shot 50% except Paul George.
David West was 4-8 from the line as part of his 16 point night. He was caught in a battle with Paul Millsap, but while Millsap was living at the line, shooting 8-12, West was having to rely on his shooting, and late misses really hurt Indiana. Late misses by Stephenson hurt the Pacers as well, a pair of fourth quarter free throw misses and a 6-14 shooting night was far from a success story, though his play to open the third saved the Pacers from a 40 point deficit instead of 30, even if he did fall into another technical foul at an inopportune time.
Atlanta's bench outscored Indiana's 34-2 in the first half, but the play of C.J. Watson and Chris Copeland gave the Pacers a 21-11 second half advantage. Watson was big in the fourth quarter, scoring all 15 of his points in the final 15 minutes of game action, helping to bring the Pacers back into the game. Copeland had two threes out of six attempts, but showed better defensive effort than Luis Scola did.
It's part of what will make Copeland's relegation to the bench in favor of Scola frustrating as Indiana faces elimination, but while neither may be great defensively, there's no doubt Copeland has shown more positives on that side of the floor that Scola did tonight. Scola certainly deserves time, but Copeland does as well. Even if it does continue to be at the cost of Roy Hibbert and Ian Mahinmi.
Hibbert actually looked good early, but two quick fouls effectively ended his night and Mahinmi offered up very little in the backup role. The series has been unkind to Indiana's traditional centers, but Hibbert continued to look very upbeat on the bench. Should the Pacers manage to string their first back-to-back wins of the series together, he'll still stand to make an impact this season, though Indiana is running out of opportunities to make that happen.
Paul George had another quiet, but top notch game. He shot the ball well again, 9-16, was the only Pacer perfect from the line (4-4), pieced together another double double (26 points and 12 rebounds), coming up with six assists and six steals. He wound up just one of three Pacers in the + figure tonight and while the wins and losses haven't aligned for Indiana, he's really put this team in a positive position the best he can.
Regardless of the positives and negatives of tonight's outcome, the only thing that matters is that the Pacers are now trailing the Hawks 2-3. They're 0-10 all time when trailing a series 2-3, and despite a close win against the Hawks on Saturday, will have to head back to Philips Arena, needing a win to push the series back to Indianapolis for a deciding Game 7.
Game 6 won't be until Thursday, a long layoff and a lot of time to stew in whatever transpired in Game 5, and a lot of time to "get right," assuming this team is capable of such things. This series, and Indiana's season, can still got a lot of ways, but it's up to them to make it happen. The entire shape of the Indiana Pacers as a franchise moving forward rests on the outcome of Thursday night's game, we'll see if they're up for it.