In a season finale dominated by matchups involving teams fighting for their playoff lives against teams willingly resting players, the Indiana Pacers took care of business against one such team in the Atlanta Hawks to finish the season on a high note, clinching their second straight playoff berth and sixth in the last seven seasons.
The Pacers used an 11-0 run into the second quarter to build a lead they’d hold throughout the rest of the game, but they were tasked with a lot of work in keeping it. The energy of the Hawks’ backups was on display against the touch-and-go effort of the Pacers.
Only leading by seven at halftime, Jeff Teague exploded in the third quarter, scoring 14 points to push Indiana up by as many as 18 in the third. Atlanta wasn’t deterred, closing the gap to eight in the fourth on an 11-2 run. At that point, however, Paul George made sure the Pacers weren’t going home, scoring the next eight Pacers points to put the game away.
George finished with a game high 34 points, completing a double double with 11 rebounds. He shot 12-21 with five threes and scored 12 in the fourth. In other words, about par for his play in the last six games in pushing the Pacers into the playoffs. The result is the Pacers landing as a seventh seed for the second straight year, but George is looking to make another leap, excited to play the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Teague finished with 19 points and seven assists, playing relatively clean with only one turnover. Unfortunately, Teague turned his ankle towards the end of the fourth quarter, but it appeared to be minor, as Teague returned to the floor after the game to sign autographs without a taped ankle.
Myles Turner was the third Pacer in double figures with 18 points. He played a solid game around the rim with eight rebounds and six blocks, but still has to contend with what appears to be a broken jump shot. Turner went 0-5 outside of the paint, which doesn’t serve well for Indiana’s floor spacing as Thaddeus Young continues to occupy the same space, flawlessly executing around the rim with nine points and eight rebounds.
Executing away from the rim will be crucial against Cleveland’s struggling defense, and it the shooting struggles were on full display tonight. The Pacers shot 47.6% as a team, but away from the paint, the Pacers were just 1-16 outside of the George, Teague, and C.J. Miles trio, with Miles hitting three threes early. Lance Stephenson contributed to the misses away from the rim, scoring just four, but filled up the stat sheet with 10 rebounds and six assists, finding Miles on all of his threes and four of Kevin Seraphin’s eight point night.
Indiana was fortunate to go against a team that was clearly playing backups, as evidenced by Atlanta’s 41.7% shooting, but while Indiana had their own struggles away from their three double figure scorers, they capitalized in other areas, such as points off turnovers. The Pacers forced 18 Hawks turnovers while committing just 10 themselves, but even more impressive was their 25-3 advantage in points off turnovers.
Indiana wasn’t on point tonight, but making the Hawks pay for their mistakes was a huge edge. The Pacers outscored Atlanta by 16 in the paint and made nine extra shots over the course of the night. The result was Indiana’s fifth straight win to end the season. The Pacers ended up needing to win out after falling to 37-40 to avoid early season tiebreaker losses, holding on on the final day to eliminate the Miami Heat in the process.
As they did last year from the same view, the Pacers will kick off the NBA Playoffs on the road against the Cavaliers on Saturday at 3 p.m. Eastern time on ABC.
The early start benefited the Pacers last season when they knocked off Toronto in Game 1 en route to a full seven game series. They’ll need to show the same fight on Saturday if they hope to have a lasting chance against the defending NBA Champions.