There's something about the Philips Arena that has proven impossible to solve for the Indiana Pacers.
After opening their best-of-seven series with the Atlanta Hawks with a pair of double-digit victories, Indiana has seen its series lead erased thanks to Atlanta's 102-91 Game 4 win Monday night. The loss was the Pacers' 13th straight in Atlanta.
Josh Smith bothered the Indiana frontcourt with his versatility, torching the Pacers for 29 points, 11 boards, three thefts and a block. His interior partner, Al Horford, chipped in with 18 points despite being limited to just 30 minutes because of foul trouble.
Kyle Korver and Anthony Tolliver combined for 28 points and eight three-pointers off the bench, besting Indiana's bench (19 points) by themselves.
Paul George led the Pacers with 21 points, 12 rebounds and four steals, but had a poor 6-of-16 shooting night and couldn't keep the Hawks from evening this series at 2-2.
The prospect of carrying a 3-1 deficit back to Bankers Life Fieldhouse was certainly a daunting proposition for Larry Drew's team.
Luckily his roster performed as such.
After trading buckets for the early part of the first quarter, the Hawks slipped to a 21-14 deficit thanks to a heavy dose of Pacers interior play. But Atlanta took on the role of aggressors, and a buzzer-beating runner from Devin Harris gave the Hawks a 22-21 lead after the first.
The Hawks carried over their hot play into the second, with a pair of triples from Anthony Tolliver and Kyle Korver and a putback slam from Josh Smith capping a 16-0 run. Tolliver and Korver continued their perimeter production, and Smith and Devin Harris added triples of their own.
But the Pacers packed their own long-range punch, as Gerald Green, D.J. Augustin and Lance Stephenson all connected from deep.
Augustin's three at the 4:16 mark of the second trimmed Atlanta's lead to eight, but the Hawks eventually regained firm control, building to a 57-40 lead at the half.
Frank Vogel's halftime message appeared to be having some effect, as the Pacers opened the third quarter on a 6-1 run to bring the score to 58-46. But the Hawks responded with their own 6-0 run, sparked by a mid-range jumper from Korver and capped by a pair of Smith free throws.
Indiana then went back to its biggest weapon, battering Atlanta near the rim. David West converted an and-1 off a turnaround jumper, Roy Hibbert dropped in a hook shot two possessions later, the Hawks shooters went cold, and an 11-0 Indiana run cut the deficit to seven points.
Atlanta managed just 12 points in the third, but still carried a 69-62 lead into the fourth. Indiana trimmed it to five two minutes later, but Atlanta doubled it on another Smith slam and three from Tolliver.
The Hawks looked determined to ride Horford's broad shoulders to victory, and the versatile big man responded with Atlanta's next five points. But Indiana refused to budge, finding production from all angles on the floor.
The Pacers collapsed to slow down Horford, but that opened room for Korver and Smith to fire away from deep. Indiana tried to battle back, but could not come up with clutch stops that it needed.
It took a teamwide effort for the Hawks to solve the Pacers' defensive puzzles, but stretch forward Anthony Tolliver gave his club an added dimension on offense:
Anthony Tolliver with another big 3-pointer in the series. #ATLHawks— Chris Vivlamore (@ajchawks) April 30, 2013
Perhaps understanding what a loss would mean, the Atlanta faithful gave the Hawks a boost they hadn't felt in quite some time:
Don't remember Hawks fans being THIS into a game since, dare I say, 2008?— Raj Prashad (@RajPrashad) April 30, 2013
Of course, the Pacers defense played a role in keeping the Hawks very much in this series. Indiana's perimeter defenders had no interest in chasing Atlanta's shooters around screens or running them off the three-point line:
This is embarrassing. A Pacers team that can't play excellent defense isn't beating anyone. And this version can't even play competent D.— Jared Wade (@8pts9secs) April 30, 2013
Things appeared to be going from bad to worse when Roy Hibbert picked up an untimely foul midway through the third quarter. Given Atlanta's interior deficiencies, Hibbert had been Indiana's most reliable offensive threat:
Bad foul by Roy Hibbert on the perimeter leads to his fourth foul moments later. Tough blow for Pacers.— Kevin Pelton (@kpelton) April 30, 2013
But Hibbert's loss may have been a necessary evil, as his teammates finally appeared to grasp the importance of this contest:
It's a 4-pt game. Pacers finally playing like they want a chance to close the series out at home— Mike Wells (@MikeWellsNBA) April 30, 2013
And it certainly didn't hurt that Hawks big man Al Horford was dealing with his own problems, or that an under-the-weather Devin Harris missed the start of the half while getting an IV (per Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution):
Pacers making their run with Horford on the bench with those four fouls. Hawks missing Devin Harris and his pace change. #PACERSvHAWKS— Sekou Smith (@SekouSmithNBA) April 30, 2013
Drew tried to buy Josh Smith some rest in the fourth quarter, but that allowed Indiana's All-Star Swiss Army knife, Paul George, to start to find his offensive groove:
The problem with Smith sitting to start the fourth is that, where George just carves the D off the dribble.— Raj Prashad (@RajPrashad) April 30, 2013
In desperate need of a win, the Hawks struggled to do the little things needed to win playoff basketball:
The Hawks' free throw shooting (13-for-24) is deplorable and will come back to bite them tonight if they are not careful.#PACERSvHAWKS— Sekou Smith (@SekouSmithNBA) April 30, 2013
What they lacked in execution, though, the Hawks were making up for with effort:
Devin Harris excellent hustle.— Raj Prashad (@RajPrashad) April 30, 2013
The versatile Smith is hard enough to game-plan for, but Atlanta's interior was bolstered by the play of its reserve shooters:
Kyle Korver is officially a Pacer killer for life.— Jared Wade (@8pts9secs) April 30, 2013