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Defensive energy leads Pacers to win over Hawks

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Indiana forced 22 Atlanta turnovers, leading them to a 93-87 victory over the Hawks. Monta Ellis had 26, with Ian Mahinmi scoring 13. Solomon Hill had 10 off the bench.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

A fast start for the streaking Atlanta Hawks did little to inspire confidence in fans of the Indiana Pacers, who saw the home team down double figures at 21-11 with under three minutes remaining in the first. A series of defensive lapses and missed shots opened opportunities for Atlanta to build the lead. But a strong close to the quarter, led by seven points from Monta Ellis and a three by Paul George shave four off the lead heading into the second.

It was in the second quarter that the Pacers took charge with the opening play of the quarter by Solomon Hill being a definition of the quarter as a whole, with Hill stealing Dennis Schroeder's pass and heading the other way for two. It was the first of nine second quarter turnovers by the Hawks, leading to 13 Indiana points in the quarter, giving them 20 for the half.

The Pacers outscored Atlanta 31-13 in the second quarter, but the Hawks returned the favor in the third quarter by forcing turnovers to cut into a 12-point halftime deficit. The Hawks would tie the game at 62-62 late in the third, though the Pacers got enough offensively to keep pace with Atlanta before Jordan Hill and Ellis led a 12-4 run late in the third to push Indiana back up by eight.

Ellis led the Pacers, scoring all 26 of his points through three quarters. Not only was Ellis the scoring catalyst for Indiana tonight, but it's when his points came that helped shift things in Indiana's favor throughout the night. Ellis had a pair of steals on a night when all nine Pacers recorded a steal, totaling 16 for the night, leading to 26 points off turnovers by the time it was all said and done.

The struggles of Paul George continued with him scoring just nine points on 3-14 shooting, but more than his struggles, how the team has managed to play late in games with him struggling has been a concern. While the team has been able to hang in games, closing them has been a different matter, and the Hawks appeared on track to do that in the fourth, hanging around and eventually climbing to within three at 90-87 with just over a minute to go.

Solomon Hill, seeing action due to a back injury for C.J. Miles, missed a look from three on the following possession, but Ian Mahinmi came up with a crucial board, eventually leading to another three point attempt, this time by Ellis. The Ellis miss was put back by Mahinmi, who gave Indiana a five point lead with 16 seconds remaining, closing out the 93-87 win over the Hawks.

The play of Mahinmi late was crucial, but it was Solo who was the real catalyst of success for Indiana. Hill entered the game with a defensive energy, granting him a pair of steals, three boards, and a season best 10 points. Hill struggled shooting from range, but was big around the basket. While Hill has been planted on the bench for the duration of the season, Indiana may not escape with this one without his play on the defensive end.

George Hill was the biggest statistical beneficiary of Indiana's defense, securing four steals on the night, scoring eight. Mahinmi was the second starter in double figures, scoring 13 points and posting nine rebounds on the night. He and Lavoy Allen combined for nine of Indiana's 11 offensive boards, with Mahinmi bringing in five.

The play of the bench, in addition to Solo, was a big reason for Indiana's success. Chase Budinger had 10 points on 5-6 shooting and Jordan Hill had nine on 4-7 shooting. To say the Pacers won tonight on their defense isn't a stretch when looking at how their offense was ran in general. The Pacers got a lot of easy buckets, but had only nine team assists on the night, which coupled with 10-18 shooting from the free throw line typically aren't numbers conducive to success.

Still Indiana got what they needed out of their defense and it gave them a quality home win over Atlanta, who was held to their lowest offensive output of the season. The Pacers next opponent will be the Chicago Bulls at the United Center when the two teams meet on Wednesday. Good news from an injury front involves Myles Turner, who was cleared to return, participated in warm ups, and wasn't completely ruled out of playing on Wednesday.

With or without Turner, this will be the third of four meetings already between the Pacers and Bulls, and it's doubtful the Bulls themselves forgot how Indiana laid into them as part of their 104-92 victory the day after Thanksgiving, since they never seem to forget much.