Just after 7 p.m. ET on Thursday, shortly before tipoff of Game 3 between the Indiana Pacers and Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena, @NBAOfficial — a Twitter account offering updates on officiating and rule clarifications "directly from the league office" — published the following tweet:
Little did we know that this particular clarification would wind up becoming an important part of a remarkable play just a couple of hours later.
With just under three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter and the Hawks hold onto an 84-78 lead over the once-again-scuffling Pacers, Indiana found itself in desperate need of a stop, and they appeared to have gotten one. Paul George had successfully navigated a Hawks high-screen-and-roll near the half-court line without getting caught up in the wash of bigs David West and Paul Millsap, recovering to keep Hawks point guard Jeff Teague in front of him as the shot clock wound down under 10 seconds. On the other side of the court, George Hill fought around an off-ball screen from Atlanta center Pero Antic to stay within hailing distance of Kyle Korver, keeping the always dangerous sharpshooter from being a pressure-release option as the seconds ticked off.
Antic passed the ball out to Teague, whose right foot was on the tip of the wing of the Hawks logo extending from half-court, with just under five seconds remaining on the shot clock. Atlanta had nothing going; all Teague could do was dribble left around an Antic screen, get angled toward the sideline by switching defender Luis Scola, and hoist up a prayer.
Sometimes, prayers get answered. The running, off-balance 24-footer swished softly through the net after the shot clock hit zero, pushing Atlanta's lead to nine and further reinforcing the already apparent reality that this just wasn't the Pacers' night.
It was, frankly, a ridiculous play; Teague himself shrugged as he ran back on defense. But this wasn't an "M.J. vs. the Blazers, I don't know what to tell you, I just can't miss" shrug. This was a "No, seriously, I am just as baffled by what is going on as you are" shrug. Don't believe me? Here's the evidence:
Jeff Teague is a confident man, but even confident men recognize nonsense not actually of their own doing; this was such a moment of recognition.
The cold, hard truth was further confirmed after Lance Stephenson hit a layup to cut the Hawks lead to 87-80, then committed a foul on Teague during the Hawks' next offensive possession. During the stoppage in play, the referees flocked to the courtside monitor to review Teague's 3-pointer. There were several elements of the play that the officials could review — whether Teague's foot was behind the arc for a 3-pointer or on the line to make it a 2-pointer, for example, or whether the ball left Teague's hand before the shot clock expired.
As clarified above, though, there's no trigger for determining whether or not the player stepped out of bounds ... which was kind of a big deal, considering it sure looked on replay like Teague's right foot stepped on the sideline before his left foot came back down in bounds and he set to heavin'.
Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star offered a little post-game light on the officiating situation on the play in question:
Teague's foot was behind the arc when he cast off, so it was a 3, and the 3 stayed on the board, because that's all that could happen at that point.
Teague made his two freebies from the Stephenson foul after the review, putting the Hawks back up by nine, and that about sealed it. Stephenson missed two free throws on the other end, and the Pacers — evidently doing their best Rockets impression — didn't bust it back and match up, leaving Korver wide open in the left corner for a too-easy triple that pushed the lead to 12.
One more Teague layup following a Stephenson turnover capped a 15-5 Atlanta run, effectively sealing matters with just over a minute left as an "OVER-RATED" chant rained down from the stands at Philips Arena. From there, some final-minute free-throwing finished off a 98-85 victory that gives the eighth-seeded Hawks a 2-1 lead over the top-seeded Pacers, with Game 4 coming at the Highlight Factory on Saturday afternoon.
Teague's 3-pointer was the biggest moment, but as was the case in Game 1, the Hawks earned this win by virtue of controlling the run of play in the third quarter.
After a dismal offensive first half that saw the two clubs combine to shoot 33.8 percent from the floor, Atlanta rediscovered its touch and rhythm in the third. The Hawks went 2 for 16 from deep in the first two quarters, but 6 for 12 from long range in the third, with DeMarre Carroll (2 for 4), Lou Williams (2 for 3), Paul Millsap (1 for 2) and Korver (1 for 2) all connecting on mostly open looks created by sticking with their formula — multiple shooters stationed around the perimeter, lots of pick-and-pop actions, quick pitches and whirring dribble-handoffs to beat Indiana's often step-slow closeouts.
And while the Hawks' offense was picking up to the tune of 28 points on 50 percent shooting, Indy continued to sputter, going 8 for 25 from the field, with Roy Hibbert and George Hill combining to miss all eight of their field-goal attempts in the frame. A Carroll triple from the right wing gave Atlanta a 42-40 lead with 10:38 remaining in the third, and they never trailed again.
"Guys were making shots in the second half," Teague told NBA TV's Molly Sullivan after the game. "We've just got to keep being aggressive. That's a good defensive team over there. They're going to come back and make it tough next game — they made it tough this game, I didn't shoot well at all. We just fought, man. This was a big win for us."
Teague led all scorers with 22 points on 7 for 20 shooting to go with 10 assists against three turnovers in 36 12 minutes of work. He was one of five Hawks in double-figures, joined by Korver (20 points, 4 for 7 from 3-point land, six rebounds), Carroll (18 points on 6 for 8 shooting, four rebounds, two assists), Millsap (14 rebounds and four assists to go with his 14 points in an off-shooting night) and Williams (11 on 3 for 6 shooting in 20 minutes off the bench). Mike Budenholzer's club finished 12 for 34 from 3-point land after starting 1 for 14, notched 21 assists on 28 made field goals, and got to the line 37 times by taking advantage of all the space their long-range shooting creates by persistently attacking the rim.
Stephenson led the Pacers with 21 points on 8 for 16 shooting, 13 rebounds, four assists and three steals in 41-plus minutes. West added 16 points, seven rebounds and five assists, and Scola once again provided firepower off the pine, chipping in 17 points on 11 shots in 20 minutes. George, so dominant in Game 2, was short-circuited by early foul trouble and couldn't find the range on his jumper, making just one of 11 shots outside the paint en route to a 12-point, 14-rebound, four-assist performance.
In as close to a must-win game as the Pacers have had this season, their offense once again stagnated, with too much one-on-one play, too little side-to-side ball movement and too many missed midrange jumpers — Indy went just 8 for 32 on shots between the paint and 3-point arc on Thursday. And with the Hawks largely playing super small, the Pacers couldn't make them pay on the interior, thanks in part to the continued struggles of center Roy Hibbert, who missed seven of nine shots, managing just four points, two rebounds, one assist and two turnovers in 19 minutes of floor time. He did not see the court in the fourth quarter.
Hibbert has looked largely helpless on the court and dejected off it, seeming to have few answers for how he can contribute in this series. And yet, Pacers head coach Frank Vogel seems determined to stick with him ... well, "seems," anyway:
"Probably." Like so much else about these Indiana Pacers at this stage, that, too, remains in doubt. Sometimes, all you can do is take a page out of Teague's book and just shrug.
If the clip above isn't rocking for you, please feel free to check out the ridiculousness elsewhere, thanks to NBA Highlights.
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