The Indiana Pacers knew what they were up against. This was a game they had to have.
Paul George and David West made sure they got it.
George and West hit key 3-pointers down the closing minutes, and top-seeded Indiana held off the Atlanta Hawks 91-88 to even the opening-round series at two wins apiece Saturday.
Finally, the Pacers showed some grit and resilience, regaining the home-court edge that slipped away when they were stunned by the No. 8-seeded Hawks in Game 1.
“We were just in desperation mode,” West said. “You just can’t go down two games in a playoff series. The odds are against you.”
George put the Pacers ahead 86-85 with a jumper beyond the arc, and West hit another trey with 1:33 remaining.
Atlanta had a chance after Kyle Korver was fouled in the corner and knocked down three free throws, taking advantage of a do-over after the Pacers were called for a lane violation. But George gave the Pacers two chances at the other hand, scrambling for an offensive rebound after Lance Stephenson missed a 3. George Hill took advantage by scooping one in off a drive with 56 seconds left.
That would be the final points. The Hawks whiffed on their last three possessions; Pero Antic missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer to force overtime after the Pacers made sure Korver, the long-range specialist, didn’t get his hands on the ball.
Game 5 is Monday in Indianapolis.
After questioning his team’s toughness, George scored 24 points and added 10 rebounds for his fourth straight double-double. West added 18 points.
“My number was called,” George said. “I had to deliver.”
Unfortunately for the Hawks, Paul Millsap couldn’t provide the matching punch.
Even though he led the Hawks with 29 points, the All-Star forward turned it over with a bad pass with 33 seconds to go. Then, after Stephenson lost the ball and the Hawks gained possession off a jump, Millsap missed a spinning shot in the lane as Atlanta passed on going for a tying 3-pointer.
“We’re still a confident group,” Millsap said. “We let one slip away, but we showed we can go out and compete in the games up there. That’s where our mindset is now. We’ve got to let this one go and get ready for Monday.”
Indiana left the door open by missing its final four free throws, including a pair by George with 7.5 seconds left when only one would have been enough to seal the victory. But the Pacers buckled down at the defensive end, forcing Antic to throw up a desperation shot that clanked off the rim.
The Pacers decided against benching Roy Hibbert to go with a smaller lineup against the Hawks, who have taken the 7-foot-2 center out of his comfort zone by spreading the court with their big men. Hibbert continued to struggle, managing just six points and three rebounds in a little less than 25 minutes. But he did have his first two blocks of the series.
George and West took care of the rest.
Cheered on by a raucous crowd at Philips Arena, where they even took down a curtain that normally covers part of the upper deck, the Hawks looked as though they were headed for a commanding lead in the series as they pushed out to their biggest lead, 54-44, early in the third quarter.
But Millsap picked up two fouls just 7 seconds apart, giving him four in the game and forcing him to the bench for much of the period. The Pacers took advantage of the Atlanta star’s absence, whittling the deficit down to 59-56 by the time he returned.
“Getting him on his heels, putting him in a tough spot, obviously it changes who they are,” West said. “The game was getting away from us. He goes to the bench, we closed the gap somewhat.”
It was tight all the way in the fourth, and things really got heated down the stretch.
With about 5 1/2 minutes remaining, Millsap stumbled trying to drive to the basket and two Pacers piled on him trying to snatch the ball away.
Tempers flared, Hill gave Atlanta’s Mike Scott a little shove, and both players were assessed technical fouls. After sorting things out, the officials ruled it a jump ball.
“In the fourth quarter, we just made enough plays,” West said. “The season was on the line.”
The Indiana Pacers knew what they were up against. This was a game they had to have.
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