The Atlanta Hawks stunned the Indiana Pacers in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference first-round playoff series on Saturday night, toppling the East's top seed, 101-93, in Indianapolis to steal home-court advantage.
SportsCenter on Twitter confirmed the upset:
Hawks thrash Pacers in Game 1, led by Jeff Teague's 28-point, 5-assist showing. Pacers were 35-6 at home this year. pic.twitter.com/FXYrlfrFtS— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) April 20, 2014
Jeff Teague led the way for Atlanta with a playoff career-high 28 points on 9-of-19 shooting from the floor. Paul Millsap was also huge, hitting two threes and getting to the free-throw line on several occasions en route to a 25-point performance.
Paul George was the top dog for Indiana with 24 points, but struggled with his shot and failed to leave his mark on the defensive end.
|(8) Atlanta Hawks||28||22||30||21||101|
|(1) Indiana Pacers||22||28||16||27||93|
Indiana did its best to send an early message to Atlanta on Saturday, jumping out to a 7-2 lead. However, the Hawks weren't about to go away, igniting a 16-2 run to take a commanding 18-9 lead with four minutes remaining in the opening quarter.
The run was highlighted by Hawks center Pero Antic knocking down a wide-open three, per NBA on ESPN:
Despite falling into an early hole, the Pacers would weather the storm and eventually retake the lead midway through the second quarter on a layup from George, who had struggled mightily until that point, as Robert Spahn pointed out:
George would lead all scorers with 14 points in the first half. And defensively, George and the Pacers were able to contain lethal sharpshooter Kyle Korver, holding him to 2-of-6 shooting from behind the arc in the first 24 minutes.
Prior to tipoff, George talked about the importance of locking down the league's top long-range shooter.
"I plan on keeping a body on him the whole night...There is no counter to it," George told The Indy Star's Candace Buckner. "I just got to get it done. It's going to be tough. He stays active, even cutting to the basket, not just coming off of threes so it's going to be a challenge but it's the playoffs and I'm ready for it."
Korver led the Hawks with 12 points in the first half but missed his only two field-goal attempts in the second half. But it wouldn't matter.
Despite containing Atlanta's most dangerous shooter on the perimeter, Indiana would squander a chance to head into the locker room with the lead at halftime, turning it over with three seconds left in the second quarter and surrendering a putback layup at the buzzer, per NBA on ESPN:
The Hawks would close the half on a 7-1 run to head into the break level with the Pacers at 50 points apiece. Although Indiana was right where it wanted to be, its style of play was far from ideal, as Twitter user Will Strickland noted:
Hawks ball movement looks very Spurs-like right now. Lots of 1 On 1 disco for Indy, tho. Not their lane. #ATLvsIND— Will Strickland (@WallStrizzle1) April 19, 2014
This stat from ESPN Stats & Info highlights Hibbert's immense struggles of late:
Roy Hibbert went 1-of-4 in the first half vs the Hawks. He's now 4-of-32 in the last four games and a half.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 20, 2014
Atlanta's momentum would continue in the second half, as the Hawks began the third quarter on an 8-0 run before George finally answered with a 26-foot three-pointer.
Trailing for the entire third quarter, 1070TheFan.com's Conrad Brunner pointed to a key area of weakness for the Pacers:
#Pacers 9-0 on fast-break pts, 20-12 in paint. Clean up the D board, tighten up on Teague and things could work out for home team.— Conrad Brunner (@1070Bruno) April 20, 2014
Unfortunately, both of Indiana's frontcourt stars would struggle and found themselves in foul trouble throughout.
With West sidelined by a fourth personal foul, the Hawks would build on their lead, pulling ahead by double digits as the Pacers' inability to score led them to struggle on the defensive end. C.J. Watson would eventually stop the bleeding with a tough three-pointer off the glass.
The shot concluded a 14-0 run from Atlanta.
Still, Indiana's offensive woes continued as Atlanta's lead swelled to 18 points. Teague was absolutely huge in helping the Hawks pull away in the third quarter, penetrating with ease and scoring in close, as ESPN Stats & Info assessed:
14 of Jeff Teague's 22 points have come on drives. He's 6-for-8 on drives, and just 2-for-7 on other shots— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 20, 2014
The Hawks would continue to cruise in the fourth quarter, eventually extending their lead to 20 points and silencing the sea of gold inside Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Indiana would use a pair of threes to cut the deficit to eight with 33 seconds remaining, but Atlanta made free throws to close out the hard-fought road win with little drama.
The Pacers and Hawks will have two days off before Game 2 on Tuesday night in Indianapolis. However, there's no guarantee that will be enough time for Indiana to escape this funk.
Indiana is now 10-14 in its last 24 games going back to the regular season and hasn't been the same team over the past two months. The key to turning things around is refocusing on the defensive end. While the Pacers' defensive struggles have been well-documented of late, their inability to score has really set them back on the other end, where they haven't played with the cohesiveness that led them to the Eastern Conference Finals a year ago.
The Pacers will need to get stops and secure rebounds in Game 2 in order to even the series at one game apiece. Indiana's perimeter players will also have to find a way to limit Teague's penetration. Otherwise, this could turn out to be a long series for the East's top seed.