There have been too many ups and downs in this series to anoint the Atlanta Hawks as the team that knocked off a number one seed, but with their 107-97 win on the road against the Indiana Pacers they might have finally crushed what remains of the spirit that led their opponents all through this season, but about to fall way short of the goal they set for themselves.
One quarter busted this game open, and was too much for the Pacers to overcome. The Hawks scored 41 points in the second quarter with a barrage of three pointers from Mike Scott and the rest, as the bench player got away from anyone guarding him (usually Luis Scola) with simple off the ball screens to make it a perfect six-for-six from the field and hitting five consecutive 3-pointers that seemed to stun what previously was known as the best defense in the NBA.
Scott wasn’t the only player coming off the bench that the Pacers couldn’t keep up with, as Shelvin Mack scored 20 points, many of them coming in the fourth quarter as the Hawks were trying to hold off the comeback the Pacers were going on. Kyle Korver was deadly from beyond the arc with 5-of-10 and 16 points while Paul Millsap was once again a handful for anyone trying to guard him, adding 18 points, 8 rebounds and 4 blocks.
Who knows what went through Roy Hibbert’s head as he was benched, never to return quite early in the game. The center finished with 0 points and 0 rebounds in 12 minutes of basketball. This is from a guy who looked like the best center in the East early in the season, but except for being a big body in the paint can’t do anything right at the moment. The Pacers whole defensive plan relies on him performing well, and all the improvisations from Frank Vogel later on didn’t make anything better.
Some Pacers fans turned on Paul George, but he scored 26 points with 12 rebounds, 6 assists and 6 steals. He made mistakes, but shot 9-of-16 from the field. The rest of the starting lineup, except for Hibbert, did a good job as the Pacers looked strong in the final quarters, clawing their way back. But one incredible second quarter from the Hawks, as a stunned Pacers team looks on, was too much for the “best in the East” until the playoffs began to overcome.
If quick ball movement and off the ball screens is all it takes to break down the Pacers defense like that, maybe they don’t deserve to be here. The Hawks had an offensive rating of 189 in the second quarter, hitting 9-of-11 on open jumpers and a total of 11-of-14 for 31 points when taking shots from outside the paint. The Pacers hit 14 3-pointers of their own, but they didn’t have the same devastating effect.
We’ve seen number one teams knocked out before, but there seems to be something unique about the Pacers, as it didn’t just happen in the playoffs. The warning signs have been all around for the last couple of months, and it’s shocking that such a mediocre, sub .500 team like the Atlanta Hawks have been good enough, consistent and smart enough to expose what seem to be fake championship contenders.