The Indiana Pacers had a chance to put the series to rest on Monday night. The Atlanta Hawks had other plans.
Josh Smith put up 29 points to lead the Hawks to a 102-91 victory in Game 4 on Monday night. In doing so, he helped the Hawks survive a strong, comeback surge by the Pacers in the final two quarters. This evens the series at 2 games each, and sets up a pivotal game-5 on Wednesday, May 5th.
Smith had a hard time taking care of business for most of the second half. But then something clicked, and he suddenly couldn’t be stopped. It seemed the Pacers had no answer for his big plays, including a tough, 3-point shot followed by an offensive rebound, which Hawks shooting guard Kyle Korver promptly turned into yet another 3-pointer. Not long after that, Smith came off a fast break with another slam-dunk.
On the other side of the ball, Smith held his own against Pacers small forward Paul George, who put up 18 second-half points, many of which were challenging shots to say the least. Were it not for George’s valiant effort, the game might not have even been that close. But it wasn’t enough to help Indiana overcome the 57-40 deficit at the break. They came close, narrowing the deficit to just 4 points at one point in the third quarter, and closed to within 5 points several times during the game’s final 10 minutes. But alas, it was just too much for them to overcome. Spending so much energy just to get back into the game effectively drained them of energy when then needed it most.
Hawks shooting guard Kyle Korver did his part to secure the win, scoring 19 points off the bench, most of which were 3-pointers. Unlike the first three games of the series in which he had managed just single digits, he was at his beast with 5 three-pointers, 1 assist, 1 steal and a block. Atlanta center Al Horford piled on an additional 18 points, and power forward Anthony Tolliver dropped 15 from outside the arc to keep his team ahead when the game was close. But when the dust settled, it was Smith’s performance that was the catalyst Atlanta needed to survive another day.
While the Pacers were noticeably improved on the offensive side of the ball compared to Game 3, they still shot just 38 percent on 32-of-84. But this is not surprising considering their body of work in the regular season.
George emerged from a seeming slumber and managed to connect 3 times. But it wasn’t good enough. There just seems to be something about Philips Arena. The Pacers have now lost 13 consecutive times at the arena since 2006. At least they still control their own destiny. A win back home at Bankers Life Fieldhouse will give them the series.
“That’s a great Atlanta team over there,” George Hill said. “We knew it wasn’t going to be an easy series. We knew they weren’t going to lay down. It’s always tough for us to play here. It’s good we have two more games on our home court if necessary.”
What’s amazing is that it has even come reached this point considering how dominant Indiana was at the start of the series. They have not looked like the team that won by average of 110 points and a 16-point margin during the first two games. It started with a blowout, 90-69 loss in Game 3. But they did enough right in the first two quarters to somewhat get back in the game.
The Pacers were more intense compared to how they played on Saturday, even though it didn’t really help them in the second quarter. Atlanta went 7 of 8 from outside the 3-point line and pretty much ran the court on their way to a second blowout—or so it seemed.
But the Pacers ratcheted up the defensive pressure right about the time the Hawks began to get sloppy, going on a 15-1 run that almost erased an 18-point deficit while holding Atlanta to zero field goals for a good part of the third quarter. After Horford’s dunk aside, the Pacers didn’t allow another basket until Devin Harris’ ran the full court to connect on a layup with 1:34 remaining.
It was a close call for Atlanta’s after 7-foot center Johan Petro, who almost missed the game entirely having stayed back to witness the birth of his first child. He made it to Indy with just 22 minutes to spare, courtesy of the team owner’s private jet, and the Hawks had four points and eight rebounds to show for it.
But the Pacers were the beneficiaries of the Hawks’ free throw shooting. It got so bad for Atlanta that they were just 8 of 18 at one point. But they eventually recovered to knock down their next five of six. When the dust settled, they shot just 25 of 38 at the line. Had they been a little better the game might have gotten out of hand for the Pacers.
The Pacers were outscored 30-19 by the Hawks. West had 15 points on 6-of-14 shooting to go with six rebounds on Monday.