The Indiana Pacers looked rested and ready to go in their first game back from the All-Star Break against the Atlanta Hawks. They put on a seven and a half minute clinic in the first quarter of their near wire-to-wire victory, hitting 13 of their first 14 shots (the one miss a block credited to Paul Millsap before David West could get a shot up) and jumping out 31-9 thanks to a 16-0 run, putting the game squarely in their corner.
But for as dominate as Indiana's starting unit was against a shorthanded Atlanta starting five, the Hawks bench had little issue making an impact on the game, with Lou Williams closing the quarter on a 14-4 run to cut a 22 point lead to 12. In the meantime, the Pacers went on a four minute field goal drought that helped Atlanta's run along, but were able to get enough shots to go to keep the game in double figures while Kyle Korver continued to inch the Hawks closer and closer.
A Korver three pointer put the Hawks down just three points at 52-49 with a minute remaining in the half before the Pacers closed strong with five points to close the second quarter up 57-49. The Pacers once again opened the third quarter with a vengeance, jumping up 75-56 with 7:26 remaining in the third quarter, but another field goal drought, this time six and a half minutes, opened the door for the Hawks to once again cut the lead into single figures.
Indiana really struggled offensively at times tonight, but it was their ability to open quarters and close quarters that really helped them seal a victory over Atlanta. After watching their 19 point lead fall to just seven at 80-73, the Pacers closed the third quarter on a 7-2 run to push the lead back to 12. The starters wouldn't see the floor again thanks to a big boost from the bench unit, especially from Ian Mahinmi and Danny Granger, to help keep the Hawks from ever pushing the game back into single figures as Indiana closed out the 108-98 win.
The play of the bench in the second half was huge. The Hawks second unit had absolutely obliterated Indiana's in the first half, outscoring them 29-8. While Indiana didn't exactly turn the tables in the scoring department, the Pacers bench scored 22 second half points, more than enough to grab a win, especially with Mahinmi playing as well as he did. Mahinmi had an average first half, but was huge in the second half, wrapping up with six points, five rebounds, three blocks, and two steals to turn the game in Indiana's favor.
Granger as well played exceptionally well in the fourth quarter, which was a big deal given how poorly he had played up to that point. Granger scored all nine of his points in the final 12:01 of the game, but the awareness of his passing was almost non-existent in the first three quarters, with him committing four turnovers, all on bad passes. As a whole, Indiana wasn't especially careful with the ball early, with turnovers on their first three possessions, but they did a much better job throughout the game, finishing with 14.
Indiana's ability to turn the ball over helped minimize their early ball handling struggles. The Pacers were able to force 22 turnovers that led to an astounding 35-7 points off turnovers advantage. Paul George came up with three of Indiana's 11 steals on the night, starting white hot from the floor, scoring 14 first quarter points on 6-6 shooting before coming back down, hitting just two of his next 12 shots. The difference was his ability to get to the line, shooting six as part of his game high 26 points.
Lance Stephenson was the only starter to play over 30 minutes, as he played well with 13 points, five rebounds, and seven assists. He was aided by two other double digit scorers from David West and Roy Hibbert. Hibbert scored 10 points, had five boards, and sent away four blocks. West was a key part of Indiana's success early, scoring 17 points on 6-10 shooting, leading the team with six rebounds.
Indiana's success off of turnovers really helped gloss over some major rebounding issues. The Pacers were worked pretty handily on the glass, allowing 12 offensive boards and finishing -8 in the rebounding battle. Part of it early was Indiana's hot shooting; they entered the half at nearly 58% shooting, but that average dropped to 49% for the game and Indiana never really gained control of the glass, coming with just six offensive rebounds as part of 36 overall.
George Hill had a quiet night of nine points on 4-4 shooting. With trade rumors heating up, any upgrades the Pacers can make that might involve Hill seem like huge steps back for the team. Hill may take a backseat far too often as the starting unit's fifth option, especially given his abilities to get quality looks, but more than ever, that doesn't appear to be a player that would fit what Indiana does better than Hill, who has upped his assist game recently, tacking on seven more tonight, while committing zero turnovers.
While Indiana still appears prone to some offensive headscratching, it was nice to see them come out of the All-Star Break with a focus that allowed them build a 22-point advantage. The win improves them to 41-12, keeps them from falling into multiple losses, all while washing out most of the bad mojo from their loss to Dallas last Wednesday.
The Pacers have a primetime showdown tomorrow night against the Minnesota Timberwolves on the road. Indiana passed their last second night road game test, and it'll be another tough game in Minnesota under the lights of ESPN. With the schedule breaking in their favor, they need to lock in and find a way to take care of business in these second night games as just 29 games remain in the regular season.