With a 4-point halftime lead and the spirits of the fan base lifted to scary high levels, the Atlanta Hawks were in great shape against the Indiana Pacers in Game 2 of their 1st-round series. Unfortunately, that feeling evaporated in a hurry during an epic second half collapse, and the Pacers evened the series at 1 apiece with a 101-85 drubbing of the Hawks.
Much like Game 1, the Pacers rushed out of the gates in a hurry, scoring the first 7 points of the game while the Hawks missed their first 5 shots. However, Atlanta woke up in a hurry, sprinting to an 11-4 run in reaction to Indy's opening salvo, and after the cold shooting early, the Hawks made 7 of their next 10 attempts. It was Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague driving the bus offensively, as the two studs scored 16 of the first 21 points for the Hawks, and they were crucial in allowing Atlanta to shoot better than 50% in the quarter in route to a 5-point lead.
The second quarter was filled with runs from both sides, as Lou Williams (who scored 7 points in his first 3 minutes of game action) helped to spur an 8-2 Hawks run that gave Atlanta their largest lead of the half at 38-27. That was quickly followed by a 10-2 response from Indiana, and Luis Scola was incredibly active, knocking down 4 consecutive jump shots that helped to make up a 13-point half from the veteran power forward. Still, the Hawks were able to hold off Indy's charge for the most part, and on the strength of 50% shooting from the field and the 3-point line (8 for 16), Atlanta held a 4-point lead at the halftime break.
Following the break, disaster struck, despite the fact that it took a bit of time to transpire. The Hawks made a concerted effort to get Kyle Korver involved out of the gate, with the sharp-shooter attempting threes on the first two trips, but the offense wasn't quite clicking, and that would come back to haunt Atlanta. Shortly following an early back and forth, Indiana took the lead for the first time since the first quarter when Lance Stephenson converted a 3-point play to make the score 62-59, and the Pacers finished a 12-2 run that saw them hold a 66-61 lead with 6:43 remaining in the period.
Unfortunately, that wasn't nearly the end of Indy's push. The Pacers closed the 3rd quarter on a monstrous, 11-0 run, as Indiana's offense began to click (making their final 5 shots) while Atlanta's offense stalled in a considerable way with 7 consecutive misses. Paul George capped that push with a buzzer-beating 3 to give the Pacers a 79-65 three as the game shifted to the 4th quarter, and when the home team scored the first 8 points of the final quarter (lengthening the run to 19-0), the margin was an insurmountable 22 points with just over 9 minutes remaining.
Lou Williams finally broke the streak of scoreless play with a bucket at the 9:03 mark, but the damage was plainly done. At one point, the Hawks had converted only 6 of 30 (!) shots after halftime, and Indiana's lead swelled to as many as 27 at the 6:07 mark mark before settling on the final, 16-point margin. Budenholzer yanked the starters with 6:58 to play in the night, and if anything, it was too late.
Paul George was the best player on the floor for the majority of the night, and frankly, he was the biggest reason for Atlanta's defeat. It was a stat-stuffing effort for George, who finished with 27 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists and 4 steals, but almost more importantly than that, he was the central piece of Indiana's energy (copyright, Larry Drew) and he brought it from the opening tip.
On the Atlanta side, Paul Millsap led the way with 19 points on 6 for 12 shooting, and Jeff Teague added 14 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists for his trouble. Unfortunately, the leading duo combined for just 17 points after the first quarter, and it wasn't nearly enough with much of the rest of the squad visibly struggling. Kyle Korver had an exceedingly forgettable night at the office (1 for 5 shooting, 3 points) while Pero Antic (2 for 9, 5 points) and Shelvin Mack (1 for 5, 4 points) weren't much better. Lou Williams was the lone bright spot off the bench for the Hawks with 11 points, but even he cooled off considerably after a hot start and needed 12 field goal attempts to get his numbers.
The second half of this one may not be easy to forget, but that is certainly the best course of action for the Hawks and their fans right now. Indiana's offense began to flow in a way that no one had witnessed for weeks (or maybe months) and the Hawks went as cold as cold could be. it does happen in the NBA, and with a split in Indiana, Atlanta should be returning home in reasonable spirits. Still, it does feel a bit like the air has been let out of the balloon, and Mike Budenholzer will have a unique challenge in motivating his club for a reasonably quick turnaround in Game 3 on Thursday night in Atlanta.