The Indiana Pacers officially fell out of the Eastern Conference playoff picture after losing to the Atlanta Hawks, 122-118.
The Pacers were in trouble at the half after outplaying the Hawks for much of the first half, only to see an ill-advised outlet pass from Jeff Foster turn into a Mike Bibby jumper at the buzzer which gave the Hawks a 62-60 lead at the break. Bibby's bucket capped a 10-2 run to finish the half for the Hawks and scrub away the great offensive effort from the Pacers in the first 21 minutes of the game.
The game of runs continued in the second half with the Pacers beginning the third quarter on a 12-3 run, which the Hawks quickly trumped with a 16-2 run of their own. From that point on, the Pacers were fighting an uphill battle, falling behind by as much as 12 points in the fourth quarter.
The Pacers never gave in and thanks to a few boneheaded fouls and possessions by the Hawks, the lead was down to four with 20 seconds left. The Pacers struggled to inbound the ball and then when they did, Brandon Rush slipped and lost the ball. After Jarrett Jack chased it down and literally ripped the ball out of Mike Bibby's hands, the clock was evaporating and Jack's 3-ball was off the mark. Too little, too late.
The big difference in the second half was the Pacers inability to handle the Hawks' high pick n' roll which continually ended up with a Hawk big finishing at the rim. Several times the Pacers were simply too late in rotating, especially when an extra pass would find a cutting Josh Smith on the baseline. It seemed like Smith had 40 dunks tonight, although it must've been a few less since he finished with 30 points.
Smith was like a next generation Stacey Augmon out there for the Hawks, looking like some Incredible Hulk/Plastic Man hybrid. Five of Smith's ten rebounds were off Hawk misses, including two o-rebs he chased down in the last 1:20 of the game. Those were nothing short of dagger rebounds at a time when the Pacers were in desperate need of the ball.
In the end, this was another tough road loss for the Pacers against a better team priming themselves for the playoffs. The win clinched the fourth seed for the Hawks and with it home court advantage in the first round.
A few other thoughts:
- Al Horford provided a nice compliment alongside Smith for the Hawks tonight. Horford was a key cog in the high pick n' roll and finished the game with 22 points, 15 rebounds and 5 assists. I think all of those assists were to Smith for his baseline dunks.
- Jim O'Brien was all in for this game, tightening his rotation to eight players with Rush, Granger, Jack and Murphy all playing more than 35 minutes. Unfortunately, Josh McRoberts was left out of the action in the tight game so there was no opportunity to see how he would follow up his solid play from Wednesday night.
- Troy Murphy finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds to tie Clark Kellogg's team record for double-doubles in a season. Special K was in attendance doing the color commentary for the Pacers television broadcast.
- Danny Granger had another monster scoring night with 35 points, despite missing four free throws. Considering that Granger entered the game shooting 88.5% from the line, that's like a month's worth of misses.
- Jarrett Jack played a little over 40 minutes and struggled offensively most of the night scoring 17 points on 7-17 shots. While Jack had 7 assists he also had 5 turnovers. Maybe he was pressing a bit while playing in front of friends from his Georgia Tech days. Knowing Jack, he has a ton of friends from his Georgia Tech days. To his credit, there was no quit in him as he scrapped through the final play of the game.
- The Rooks had plenty of good moments in this game. Brandon Rush finished with 10 points and 7 rebounds. Two of his points came on a sweet reverse tip of a missed shot which he made look effortless. Roy Hibbert finished with 16 points and 8 rebounds in 26 minutes. Once again, Hibbert was drawing more fouls than he was giving, finishing 8-9 from the free throw line while only being whistled for two fouls.