The No. 1 seeded Indiana Pacers have life after a 91-88 victory over the No. 8 Atlanta Hawks on Saturday in their Eastern Conference playoff tilt to knot the series up at 2-2.
Atlanta was in control throughout in large part thanks to a game-high 29 points from Paul Millsap to go with 14 points and seven assists from Jeff Teague, but sloppy play with the game on the line late ultimately cost the lesser seed the contest.
Indiana, despite just three rebounds from Roy Hibbert, won the battle on the glass, 43-41, and benefited from 14 Atlanta turnovers and a nightmare shooting game from Teague and Co., as the Hawks shot just better than 35 percent from the field and a mediocre 11-of-31 mark from deep.
The first half was yet again indicative of how evenly matched both sides truly are, especially thanks to the Pacers' wavering chemistry and the Hawks' ability to mimic the San Antonio Spurs with a wealth of options off the bench providing significant contributions.
Grantland contributor netw3rk couldn't have described Indiana's strange approach to start the game any better:
My favorite part of the Pacers' offense is when someone catches the ball and has no idea what to do with it for several seconds.— netw3rk (@netw3rk) April 26, 2014
Which begs the proper question, via Bleacher Report's Collin McCollough:
When I see these Pacers offensive possessions sticking with 1-2 guys, I honestly just ask myself what these guys do in practice each day.— Collin McCollough (@cmccollo) April 26, 2014
Often accused of having horrific overall chemistry, Sekou Smith of NBA.com notes a perhaps telling moment in Saturday's proceedings:
Carroll, George and Hill hit the floor. Hawks rush to help Carroll up. Hill had to get up on his own. Hard to ignore the difference.— Sekou Smith (@SekouSmithNBA) April 26, 2014
Lance Stephenson picked up two early fouls and hit the bench, but the Pacers somehow still surged to a 29-22 lead after one quarter.
However, things began to get ugly when Atlanta jumped out to take the lead in the second quarter—which shouldn't be a surprise, as Teague had told reporters before the game that they couldn't take the Pacers' recent struggles for granted, via Fox Sports' John Manasso.
"I wouldn't say we have control," Teague said. "They're the No. 1 seed. They're a good team. They still have great players over there. They're still going to make runs, they're still going to do their thing. It's going to be a tough series."
Led by Millsap and his 18 points at halftime, including a 2-of-4 mark from deep, the Hawks outscored the Pacers, 26-13, in the second quarter, giving them the 48-42 advantage at the break. Mike Scott and Shelvin Mack added seven points apiece off the bench, while Evan Turner helped to spark the Pacers in a similar manner with his 11 points.
As Scott Agness of Pacers.com details, it was a timely moment for Turner to step up:
Evan Turner the first Pacer in double figures. With 11 points and four assists, it’s already his best playoff game of the series.— Scott Agness (@ScottAgness) April 26, 2014
A sense of desperation clearly set in for both sides at the onset of the second half.
It just didn't equate to an uptick in quality basketball.
Indiana took control by the end of the frame thanks to a 24-17 third-quarter margin , with perhaps the biggest turning point of the game coming when Millsap picked up his fourth foul and put the Hawks in the penalty.
Bob Kravitz of The Indianapolis Star hit the nail on the head:
Pacers need to play smashmouth now with Hawks in the penalty early. Millsap out with four fouls. Huge.— Bob Kravitz (@bkravitz) April 26, 2014
NBA on ESPN sheds light on the run that allowed Indiana to take the lead:
Pacers have outscored Hawks 16-8 since Paul Millsap picked up his 4th foul and trail by just 1 with 3:24 left in the 3rd. #INDvsATL— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) April 26, 2014
The 66-65 advantage in favor of the Pacers was significant from a historical and trends perspective. As the TNT broadcast noted, George and Co. were 47-3 in the regular season when taking a lead into the fourth quarter.
While an intriguing stat, things went sour for the Pacers as the Hawks got red hot from downtown in the final period, with clutch three-pointers from both Kyle Korver and Teague:
Down 85-83, George and West stepped up in a major way with responses from deep in the game's closing moments to give the road team an 89-85 advantage with 1:32 left.
That deep ball from West was a pretty big deal, as ESPN Stats & Info reveals:
That was the 2nd 3-pointer of David West's postseason career, his 1st since April 22, 2008.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 26, 2014
It wasn't all smooth sailing from there, though, as West committed a silly foul on a Korver three-point attempt that interrupted Indiana's 8-0 run.
Fortunately for the Pacers, it proved to be a non-factor, as Atlanta continued its poor play in the final minute and Pero Antic's shot from long range clanked harmlessly off the rim as time expired.
Things shift back to Indiana on Monday, where the Pacers will have to keep the momentum alive as they look to avoid being only the second No. 1 seed in NBA history to lose to a No. 8 in a best-of-seven series.
Which team wins Game 5?
To take the series lead, Indiana must continue to make up for a jarring lack of production from Hibbert, which means role players such as Turner and Luis Scola will need to keep making big contributions.
That said, it was not too long ago—Game 1 to be exact—that Atlanta went to Indiana and scored an upset win. If Millsap can continue to bully the Pacers down low and the team as a whole can manage a more efficient shooting performance while utilizing its impressive depth, the Hawks certainly have what it takes to steal one before heading back home.