The Atlanta Hawks dropped their second straight game in painful fashion on Sunday as they watched a late lead slip away in a 97-96 loss to the Indiana Pacers. Atlanta led 96-90 with 1:43 remaining but wouldn’t score again as the Indiana netted the final seven points of the game including a three-pointer by Glenn Robinson III with just 0.6 seconds remaining to seal the win.
“Indiana came out and really played hard. They’ve been through some struggles the last six or seven games,” Darvin Ham told reporters after the game. Ham was the Hawks acting head coach on Sunday after Mike Budenholzer was suspended for one game following contact with an official during Friday’s loss to Cleveland.
“Paul George was incredible today. Nate McMillan does a great job keeping those guys competing, hungry, getting after it. We came out great and set a great tone initially, had some slippage in the second and third quarters — not closing out the half and not setting the tone for the second half. You put yourself in sort of a hole.”
Atlanta came out of the gates quickly and led by as many as 13 points in the first quarter. Their offense sputtered in the second and third quarters but they once again found a rhythm in the fourth. The Hawks began the final period with a 17-7 run to take a 91-88 lead. A floater from Millsap put them up 96-90 with 1:43 remaining.
Indiana’s comeback started from there. Jeff Teague, playing in his first game back in Atlanta since being traded to Indiana, scored on a floater to cut the advantage to four. The Hawks turned it over on the next possession and C.J. Miles cut the lead to just two with a putback.
The Hawks ran the clock down all the way on the final possession but a pull-up three-pointer by Tim Hardaway Jr. was short with 10.3 remaining. Indiana pushed the ball up the court with Paul George driving baseline and finding a wide open Robinson in the far corner for the game-winner.
“Transition defense is something we talk about. Guys are scrambling,” Ham said about the final possession. “It’s a really good trap with Thabo. Paul George drives the ball and Dennis is over there with a two-on-one situation. WE have two guys running down the middle of the floor. One has to communicate that situation. I know it’s loud, the building is loud and going crazy, but we work on last minute weak-side to take away three-point shooters. We didn’t do that. There you have it.”
Thabo Sefolosha and Tim Hardaway pulled off what appeared to be a good switch on the play ball side. The two trailing players that Ham is referring to appeared to be Millsap and Dwight Howard. Millsap passed Howard running up the floor and covered the rim, Howard followed leaving Schroder to defend the weakside in a two-on-one situation.
“I have no idea,” Paul Millsap said when asked what happened on the final possession. “We sprinted back on defense. I think everybody was focused on trying to protect the basket. A good player made a good play kicking it out. He made the shot.”
George scored all of his game-high 34 points in the first three quarters. However, he made the play of the game for Indiana with the on point kick out pass to Robinson.
“Pretty much all of their late points were in transition,” Hardaway said. “We have to do a better job of that from the start of the game to the finish of the game. We have to communicate on that end of the floor. He made an open shot. It shouldn’t be like that towards the end of the game.”
The loss drops Atlanta to 34-28 on the season. They are 2.5 games behind the Toronto Raptors and just two games ahead of the Pacers in the standings. They will host Golden State on Monday and the Nets on Wednesday before wrapping up the week with a back-to-back against the Raptors and Grizzlies.
“No chance. We’re still in the Playoffs right now,” Hardaway responded when asked if this loss took away the momentum they had built up since the Boston win. “As I see it, we have another game tomorrow. Trying to move on. This game is over. You can’t take anything back from it. Learn from it and try to get a win tomorrow.”