The third quarter was the tipping point for the Atlanta Hawks in their Game 1 victory. It was equally as decisive on Tuesday night in Game 2 but this time it broke in Indiana's favor. The Pacers outscored Atlanta 31-13 in the third and turned a four-point deficit into a 14-point lead and eventually to a 101-85 win to even the series at one game apiece.
"Our execution on both ends of the court wasn't at the level we need it to be," said head coach Mike Budenholzer following the loss. "Give them credit, they were aggressive, they made a lot of plays and our execution, particularly in the third quarter has to be better. That's what we'll work on."
Indiana made 12-16 attempts in the third and converted all five of their free throw attempts. That recorded eight assists on those 12 made baskets which was big as it shows that they had finally found the ball movement that they had been searching for. The Pacers received a spark from an unlikely place in George Hill who made of 5-6 attempts in the period and scored 10 of his 15 points in the third.
As good as the quarter was to the Pacers it was as bad for the Hawks. Atlanta made just 5-20 attempts and were 1-8 from three-point range. That was after they had hit 8-16 from beyond-the-arc in the first half.
"I think there were some opportunities and shots that have been part of our system all year and we want our guys to shoot and be confident and it's a big part of the game. We make a few of those shots, maybe the third quarter feels a little bit differently," said Budenholzer.
One significant adjustment made by the Pacers in the second half was that they stopped forcing the ball inside to struggling center Roy Hibbert. After going 1-6 in the first half, Hibbert was limited to a single shot attempt in the third. The Pacers instead played through Hill and Paul George and the results were significant.
George in particular was exceptional finishing with 27 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and four steals. His defense on Teague was a new wrinkle and worked with the Hawks missing shots from the perimeter.
At this point Atlanta shouldn't be too concerned with their performance. They missed shots and when you live and die by the three-pointer as this version of the Hawks does then you are going to lose when you don't shoot the ball well. From a series standpoint it was mission accomplished for Atlanta who stole a game in Indiana and now return home with a chance to hold serve and take a commanding lead in the series.
Those throwing dirt on the graves of the Pacers were a bit premature. This was never going to be a short series and Tuesday night Indiana played like a desperate team that knew their season was hanging in the balance. Now its up to the Hawks to bring that same kind of energy and focus at home.