After losing on their home court in Game 1, the Indiana Pacers finally looked like a No. 1 seed matched up with a No. 8 seed Tuesday against the Atlanta Hawks.
Paul George led the way with 27 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and four steals, as the Pacers came away with a 101-85 victory. Luis Scola added a critical 20 points off the bench and helped set the tone in the second half.
Frank Vogel had this to say about George's performance, via The Associated Press (per ESPN):
That's why he was in the MVP conversation early. He always does those types of things, guarding the best perimeter player, rebounding the ball, deflecting the ball. His hands were all over the place. It makes him one of the most complete players in the game when he plays like he did tonight.
Paul Millsap scored 19 points for the Hawks, who actually held the lead at halftime and controlled the pace of the first 24 minutes. However, the Pacers tapped into their stifling defense in the second half and completely dominated.
It was particularly telling that Indiana's small lineup played the majority of the second half, since the three-point shooting and floor-stretching abilities of Atlanta's big men gave Roy Hibbert trouble in Game 1.
The analysts set the scene before the game, and Charles Barkley made a point to call out the superstar George with his pregame comments:
Perhaps recognizing the magnitude of the game, Frank Vogel made sure that his best defender was guarding Jeff Teague, who torched the Pacers in Game 1. Scott Agness of Pacers.com let fans know about the early matchup:
Paul George opens the game guarding Jeff Teague.— Scott Agness (@ScottAgness) April 22, 2014
The Pacers came out with the sense of urgency you would expect from a No. 1 seed that lost the first game on its home court. However, the Hawks came storming back, as the NBA on ESPN pointed out:
Bruce Bowen tried to explain to fans why the Hawks were giving the Pacers so much trouble in the early going, with two big guys in Pero Antic and Millsap who can shoot from behind the three-point line and stretch the Indiana defense:
It's hard for a "traditional NBA team" to match up against a team where EVERYONE shoots the 3 ball. Bigs are use to playing on the block.— Bruce Bowen (@Bowen12) April 22, 2014
Indiana tried to force the ball into the paint with Hibbert early in the game, but it was largely ineffective. Kyle Korver even bothered the big man, which frankly shouldn't happen. Jared Sullinger of the Boston Celtics tried to offer some advice for the Pacers, while fans of rival teams, like Chicago Sports Guy, seemed to revel in Indiana's early postseason misery:
I think they are forcing it to big Roy... Let that ball move around make the defense move...— Jared Sullinger (@Jared_Sully0) April 22, 2014
Kyle Korver blocked Hibbert. Again.— Chicago Sports Guy (@ChicagoGuy23) April 22, 2014
I truly enjoy watching the Pacers absolutely suck— Chicago Sports Guy (@ChicagoGuy23) April 22, 2014
Indiana needed to take charge, and that is exactly what it did in the second quarter, thanks to its bench. Scola led the way, and both Gregg Doyel of CBS Sports and Candace Buckner of The Indianapolis Star acknowledged the effort of the second unit:
The Pacers bench has scored the team's last 22 points. Cut Hawks lead to 40-37.— Gregg Doyel (@GreggDoyelCBS) April 23, 2014
Scola The Resurrector. He plays 9 mins and scores 13 points, then walks off the floor pumping up the crowd. It's the loudest it's been— Candace Buckner (@CandaceDBuckner) April 23, 2014
It was nice to see some energy from Indiana, as Jeff Goodman of ESPN pointed out in tongue-in-cheek fashion:
The Pacers are alive.— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) April 23, 2014
After trading runs, the Hawks led, 52-48, at the half. Despite George's best efforts on the defensive side, Teague had 12 points and got to the rim with relative ease in the first half.
Both teams started out strong after intermission, and the Pacers finally grabbed their first lead since the first quarter midway through the third. George and Lance Stephenson were critical on both ends of the floor, Buckner pointed out:
Another 4 steal game for Paul George— Candace Buckner (@CandaceDBuckner) April 23, 2014
Lance Stephenson rebound and doesn't give it up on the 1-on-1 defense against Carroll. Takes to the rack, reverse layup and foul.— Candace Buckner (@CandaceDBuckner) April 23, 2014
In the third quarter, Indiana brought the type of defensive intensity that earned it the No. 1 seed after the regular season. The Pacers forced turnovers, created open looks in transition and completely set the tempo for the second half. George capped off the third-quarter domination with a three at the buzzer.
SportsCenter summed up Indiana's play:
PAUL GEORGE! At the buzzer! Buries the three to give the Pacers a 14-point lead over Hawks after three. Indiana won 3rd quarter 31-13.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) April 23, 2014
Indiana fans were treated to much of the same in the fourth quarter, as the Pacers gradually pulled away. They were clicking on both ends of the floor, and suddenly this looked like a No. 1 versus No. 8 series is supposed to.
Ian Mahinmi was on the floor during the decisive run, which was noteworthy because it was Hibbert who struggled to defend Atlanta in Game 1 and the first half of Game 2. While Buckner credited the backup big man for his performance, SportsNation had another explanation for the turnaround:
Really smart and stand up defense by Mahinmi this quarter. Once Scola dropped out of pic, Ian was there to stop Millsap at the rim— Candace Buckner (@CandaceDBuckner) April 23, 2014
Apparently the Monstars gave the Pacers their talent back.— SportsNation (@SportsNation) April 23, 2014
We even got a glimpse of Chris Copeland from the end of the bench, which thrilled the fans in attendance, according to Agness:
Pacers fans roar like the game is over as Chris Copeland heads to the scorer’s table to check in. Hoosiers love shooters...— Scott Agness (@ScottAgness) April 23, 2014
The series will shift to Atlanta Thursday for Game 3, and Indiana's newfound momentum will be put to the test.
Expect the Pacers to use more of the small-ball lineup that carried them to victory in the second contest. Hibbert simply struggles to match up with the Hawks, and it looks as if Indiana might be better off without him for this series.
That's not to suggest the Pacers will abandon Hibbert, who is still immensely talented and an option down low, only that there will be more minutes for the subs.
Tune in to see if spreading those minutes around results in another victory.