An awful lot went wrong for the Indiana Pacers in their disappointing Game 1 home loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday, but the most significant damage done by Mike Budenholzer's eighth-seeded birds came during the third quarter. That must have been especially dispiriting for Indiana — after all, as I wrote earlier Tuesday, third-quarter dominance had been a Pacers trademark all season, but during the first game of their quest for an NBA championship, they found themselves being blown off the floor by a 38-44 team en route to giving away the home-court advantage that they'd spent the entire season — or, at least, the first few months of it — fighting so hard to secure.
Faced with a must-win Game 2 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Tuesday, the Pacers once again struggled to contain point guard Jeff Teague and All-Star forward Paul Millsap, and headed into halftime down 52-48. Once again, the third quarter would tell the tale ... and this time, it was the Pacers' All-Star who capped the stanza off with a bang:
With the clock winding down in the third quarter, Indiana backup center Ian Mahinmi blocked a layup attempt by Hawks guard Lou Williams. The ball bounced to Atlanta's Shelvin Mack, who kicked it out to Millsap for a 3-point try that went awry, and was rebounded by Pacers forward Luis Scola. The Argentine reserve flipped the ball to Paul George, who calmly dribbled over half-court, pulled up from 28 feet out, and splashed through a 3-pointer of his own at the buzzer, much to the delight of the Fieldhouse faithful.
The long ball put an exclamation point on a third quarter that was much more like it from the Pacers' perspective — a 31-13 frame that completely changed the game, allowing Indiana to regain some of their lost swagger and resume playing like a top-flight team that can, and should, blow the doors off middling competition.
As Brett Pollakoff of ProBasketballTalk notes, the Pacers' run actually extended beyond the boundaries of the third quarter — they'd started to find a little bit of rhythm in the final minutes of the second quarter, and they kept the hammer down well into the fourth — but it was the third that turned the tide. It started with a sharp 3-point shot by George from the short right corner over the hard-charging closeout of Hawks swingman DeMarre Carroll that drew Indy within one. It continued with point guard George Hill — either a non-factor or, less charitably, a significant minus for the Pacers through the first six quarters of the series — going aggressively to the basket to get himself going, break down the Atlanta defense and start opening doors for his teammates with his scoring.
It kept going with Lance Stephenson — he of the "Gotta punch more" mantra — briefly resembling the fires of old, ripping down a rebound off a Teague miss, taking it all the way down the court and dancing with Carroll a bit before shaking him baseline and finishing a reverse layup that gave Indiana its first lead since the 4-1/2-minute mark of the opening quarter. And it rolled on with the Hawks finally starting to cool down from, well, everywhere — Atlanta went 5 for 20 in the third quarter, including a 1 for 8 mark from long range, during the third.
George's buzzer-beating triple capped an 11-0 run to end the third, which the Pacers extended to a 19-0 run by holding Atlanta scoreless for the first 2:57 of the fourth quarter. By that point, Indy's lead had ballooned to 20, and with the Hawks mired in their coldest stretch of the postseason, it was all over but the shoutin'. Nine minutes of second-unit-heavy play later, Indiana had locked up a 101-85 win that evened up the best-of-seven series at one game apiece before heading to Atlanta for Game 3 on Thursday.
On a night where the Pacers desperately needed anybody to step forward and be counted, George was the man, scoring a game-high 27 points on 9 for 16 shooting, drilling 5 of 7 3-point attempts, pulling down 10 rebounds, dishing six assists, snagging four steals and turning the ball over just once in 39 minutes of play. He took on the challenge of checking Teague, who quieted down significantly after his loud first half, finishing with just 14 points on 6 for 13 shooting to go with five rebounds and four assists. He fought over and through screens, bothering Hawks with his long strides and longer arms, tracked back to lead his team on the defensive glass, and confidently stepped into the shots that the Pacers' offense needed to find some semblance of scoring punch. (There's that word again.)
He also had some help from an unlikely source. After looking steps slow and like he'd lost his touch (shouts to Kumar) for large chunks of the season, the 33-year-old Scola gave Frank Vogel huge minutes off the Pacer bench, making nine of his 14 field-goal attempts to kick in 20 points and seven rebounds, including four on the offensive glass, in just under 20 minutes of floor time, on a night where Indiana needed every last ounce of energy and scoring acumen he could muster. The performance was enough to grant him one of the postseason's greatest honors — a trip to the post-game interview podium to discuss his outing with the media horde.
Pacers fans are pretty glad he came through with the game that led to it on Tuesday, helping relieve the pressure, change the storylines and, for one more night at least, regain control of the third quarter that they've owned all season long.
If the clip above isn't rocking for you, feel free to check it out elsewhere, thanks to watchnba201415.
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