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Hawks unable to solve Pacers in 116-108 loss

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Not enough to end 2018 on a high note.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Indiana Pacers Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks entered Monday afternoon’s match-up with the Indiana Pacers in a precarious position. The team was playing its third game in four days and, with three prominent players on the shelf with injury, Atlanta was a double-digit underdog against a red-hot opponent. While the team was competitive throughout, the Hawks were unable to pull off the upset, falling by a final score of 116-108.

At the outset, things went quite well for the Hawks, especially on the offensive end. Atlanta led by a 20-13 margin on the strength of hot shooting (8 of 12 from the floor and 4 of 5 from three) and the trio of John Collins, Kevin Huerter and Trae Young each converted their first long-range offering of the day.

Young was particularly impressive during the first six minutes of action, knocking down his first two threes and generating three assists.

Seemingly on cue, however, the Pacers awakened. Indiana zoomed to a 17-1 run after a timeout, claiming a 30-21 lead and completely flipping the script on Atlanta. The Hawks used their entire available roster in the first quarter, ranging from Daniel Hamilton’s first NBA start to Tyler Dorsey’s first appearance since Dec. 16. Still, they could not quell Indiana’s momentum down the stretch of the period, scoring only five points over the final 6:09 and trailing by eight points as the second quarter arrived.

Things did improve in the second period, though, even if it took a bit of time. The Pacers used a seven-point spurt to take a 44-32 lead but, just as the Hawks looked to be fading, Atlanta scored 10 straight points to slash the margin back to two. From there, the visitors even led on a few occasions and quality work from Collins, Huerter and Alex Len allowed Atlanta to battle to just a three-point halftime deficit.

Huerter’s long-range work was definitely noteworthy, as the first-year wing connected on four of five attempts from three-point range on the way to 14 first-half points.

Len was also quite productive, particularly in generating second-chance opportunities.

Offensively, the Hawks had little trouble in the first half, especially when removing the six-minute lull at the end of the first quarter. Atlanta’s offense generated points at a more than reasonable clip (124.7 offensive rating before halftime), using offensive rebounding and, by proxy, more field goal attempts to aid in that effort. Defensively, however, the Hawks were unable to slow the Pacers, who converted 51 percent from the floor and 44 percent from three en route to the three-point cushion.

The third quarter began in disjointed fashion and it was the Pacers that grabbed the edge on the basis of a 13-6 run. That provided a 10-point cushion for Indiana but the Hawks did push back to some degree, slashing the margin to five after a three-point play from Len.

Setting up that three-point play? Well, it was a ridiculous pass from Young.

Immediately following that flourish, however, the Pacers converted back-to-back threes and used that to generate an 8-0 run. That left the Hawks trailing by 13 and, despite a mini-run of resistance from the visitors, Indiana extended their lead with eight straight points to end the quarter.

With Atlanta trailing by 16 points and only 12 minutes to play, the task was difficult and, ultimately, the Hawks weren’t able to pull off the comeback. After a three from Young with 4:56 to go, Atlanta trailed by only 10 points and, moments later, Indiana’s lead shrunk to seven at 110-103.

During that spurt, there were a few notable highlights. First, Huerter exploded for a memorable dunk.

Then, Young found Collins with yet another obscene pass.

Still, Atlanta couldn’t continue to chip away at Indiana’s lead and, in short order, the Pacers delivered an apparent knockout blow in the form of a double-digit advantage. Huerter did deliver another deep ball (his sixth of the afternoon) to make things interesting but the home team was able to hold on by the eventual eight-point margin.

Huerter exploded for a career-high 22 points, including 6 of 9 from beyond the arc. Elsewhere, Collins generated his sixth consecutive double-double with 22 points and 16 rebounds, while Len (19 points, seven rebounds) and Young (16 points, seven assists, three steals, eight turnovers) stuffed the stat sheet in different ways.

Though Monday’s game wraps up Atlanta’s 2018 schedule, there is (very) little rest in store for the Hawks, as they travel to the nation’s capital to face the Wizards on Wednesday evening. Stay tuned.