On a night where they shot just 38% from the field, the Atlanta Hawks were not supposed to beat the top-seeded Indiana Pacers. With that, though, it nearly makes it all the more sweet that the home team ran away with a 98-85 victory to assume a 2-1 series advantage.
Things began with, basically, the inverse of the first two games, as the Hawks came out on the assault. Atlanta forced a traveling violation by Paul George on the opening trip, and when Kyle Korver was fouled while shooting a three on the other end (he converted the trio), the Hawks were off and running. After a 7-2 spurt to began the game, things stabilized a bit, but with Paul George being whistled for 2 fouls in the first 4 minutes, the Hawks were able to build a 7-point lead despite some ugly early shooting.
Jeff Teague led the charge in the early going with 7 points (including 5 straight during an 8-2 run) and he added 3 assists while playing the entirety of the period. Indy mounted a challenge late in the period with a 7-0 blitz of their own, but the Hawks were able to play even with the Pacers at 24 apiece despite shooting just 35% from the field and 1 for 7 from 3-point land.
Atlanta's ice cold shooting continued into the second quarter, as the Hawks finished off a 1 for 10 start from beyond the 3-point arc after a Paul Millsap miss with 8:51 remaining in the quarter. Fortunately, that impotence didn't derail the home team, though, as the Hawks mounted a 5-point lead (at 37-32) after a series that included a Lou Williams block on Evan Turner (yes, really), double technicals on Luis Scola and Mike Scott, and Kyle Korver's first three-point connection of the night.
The Pacers rallied following that mini-run by the Hawks, and Indiana even grabbed their first lead of the night at 38-37 after a David West runner in the lane. Paul Millsap answered with two free throws on the other end, though, and after an empty conclusion, the Hawks went to the locker room with a 1-point lead despite all of the offensive issues. On the whole, Atlanta shot 12 for 40 from the field (30%) and 2 for 16 (12.5%) in the half, and only the ugly Pacers offense bailed out the good guys. Paul George was the chief culprit for the Pacers, finishing 0 for 2 with 0 points (despite 7 rebounds) in the half, but Indy's output (38%) wasn't much better than Atlanta's and both parties could be reasonably pleased with the tight score.
The third quarter didn't begin the way any Hawks fan wanted it to, with back-to-back turnovers from Paul Millsap and Paul George's first two points of the night, but aside from that, things went quite swimmingly. DeMarre Carroll keyed an 11-2 run midway through the period with a personal 6-point explosion with a three-pointer and a three-point play, and when Korver knocked down a triple to bookend it, the Hawks had their largest lead of the night to that point at 50-42. From there, Atlanta manicured the lead effectively, highlighted by a Jeff Teague dunk that lengthened it to 10 at the 4:43 mark, and Lou Williams connected on a huge triple near the buzzer to give the Hawks a 9-point advantage headed to the fourth.
During the stretch run, the home team built the lead to as many as 12 points (on two different occasions), but the lead wasn't nearly safe. Indiana sprinted to an 11-3 advantage to get within four, and on cue, Mike Budenholzer was forced to go back to his big guns. Then, Kyle Korver seemingly snatched the momentum back with an enormous 4-point play at the 7:18 mark, but after back-to-back buckets from Indiana (including an egregious no-call against CJ Watson), the Pacers stayed within just 4 points with just over 6 to play.
The back and forth battle continued for just over 90 seconds, but when Jeff Teague smashed home a breakaway dunk that electrified the crowd and forced an Indiana timeout with 4:46 to play, the lead was lifted back to 9 and momentum was restored. Indiana would never close to within fewer than 6 points for the remainder of the evening, and when Jeff Teague (somehow) converted a 24-foot, runaway heave to give the Hawks a 9-point lead with 2:48 remaining, it did quite honestly feel like it was Atlanta's night. Kyle Korver's three to give the Hawks a 12-point lead with 1:41 to play was the dagger, and everyone could exhale from that point forward.
DeMarre Carroll, as he has been all season, was the unsung hero of the night, and he was utterly outstanding on both ends. The Hawks defensive stopper also doubled as the team's most efficient scorer, knocking down 6 of 8 shots in route to 18 points (including 9 in the 3rd quarter), and his defense on Paul George (who finished with 12 points on 3 for 11 shooting) was tremendous in its own right.
Aside from DeMarre, the Hawks had some explosive efforts offensively, especially in the second half. As a team, they shot only 38% from the floor, but Kyle Korver got blazing hot in the second half to finish with 20 points on 6 for 9 shooting and 4 for 7 from 3-point land, and the Jeff Teague/Paul Millsap duo were productive despite some inefficiency. Teague had a playoff career-high 10 assists in the game, and he put up 22 points despite needing 20 shots to do so, while Millsap had an immensely important double-double with 14 points and 14 rebounds in spite of his own shooting issues.
There were certainly many points of emphasis on the negative side in a game where the Hawks couldn't generate any type of consistent offense for long stretches, but in the end, this is a crucial victory and Atlanta has control of a series that no one gave them a chance to win. It will be a long wait (despite a short turnaround) until tip-off for Game 4 at 2:00 pm on Saturday, but this one feels good.