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Pacers take 2-0 series lead

The SportsXchange

INDIANAPOLIS -- Whether it was Roy Hibbert dunking all over Ivan Johnson or Gerald Green hammering one down on Josh Smith, the Indiana Pacers made it clear they wouldn't settle for just beating the Atlanta Hawks.

Only domination would do.

Paul George scored 27 points to help the Indiana Pacers defeat the Atlanta Hawks 113-98 on Wednesday night and take a 2-0 lead in their first-round Eastern Conference playoff series.

George, a former Slam Dunk Contest participant, was especially impressed with Hibbert's dunk. It gave Indiana a 22-17 lead late in the first quarter and set the tone for the rest of the game.

"Was a huge play," George said. "I thought the ref was going to call a charge."

George, who had been named the NBA's Most Improved Player on Tuesday, was coming off a triple-double with 23 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds in Game 1 on Sunday. The 6-foot-9 forward struggled with his shot in Game 1, but he made 11 of 21 in Game 2.

"When Paul has his shot going, he's a matchup nightmare for any team," Pacers coach Frank Vogel said.

George had plenty of help in Game 2. George Hill scored 22 points, Hibbert had 15 points and nine rebounds, and Green, a reserve, added 15 points for the Pacers.

Devin Harris scored 17 points and Jeff Teague added 16 for the Hawks. Josh Smith scored 16 points, but he only played 20 minutes because of foul trouble.

Smith's absence was felt even more on defense. Smith is one of the league's top shot blockers.

"Defensively, we're not the same team when he's out of the game," Harris said. "He erases a lot of our mistakes."

The Pacers have won all 10 NBA playoff series in which they have taken a 2-0 lead, including five sweeps. Game 3 will be played Saturday in Atlanta.

The game followed a similar script to Game 1: Atlanta shot well but was outrebounded and outscored by a large margin at the free-throw line. The Hawks have been outscored 51-18 at the line in the series, including 21-11 on Wednesday.

"You have to give them credit," Atlanta center Al Horford said. "They are being the more physical team, they are being more aggressive. I think this game, we really got caught up with the referees and we let that bother us too much."

Pacers guard Lance Stephenson bruised his right hip in the first quarter and went to the locker room. He returned in the third quarter, and his basket early in the period gave Indiana a 71-57 lead.

Atlanta gained some momentum and cut Indiana's lead to eight midway through the quarter, but Jeff Pendergraph made a jumper as the shot clock expired, then George made a layup to put the Pacers up 12 with 4:10 left in the third quarter.

The Pacers closed the quarter in style. With 1.2 seconds left, David West launched a full-court pass that Green caught and dunked before the buzzer to give Indiana an 88-76 lead at the end of the period. Indiana maintained control from there.

"We're finding out the importance of sustaining for 48 minutes," Hawks coach Larry Drew said. "We haven't done that. We've made too many mistakes, not as far as turnovers, but in execution. As I told our guys after the game, the margin for error against this team is too small."

The Pacers led 25-19 at the end of the first quarter. Green hit a 3-pointer to give the Pacers a 43-34 lead with about seven minutes left in the first half, but Atlanta hung tough. A 3-pointer by Kyle Korver cut the Hawks' deficit to 45-40.

Indiana's D.J. Augustin hit back-to-back 3-pointers to extend Indiana's lead to 57-46 late in the second quarter, and the Pacers led 59-50 at halftime.

Atlanta couldn't get it together in the second half, and now the Hawks have been backed into a corner.

"We're not going to fragment," Drew said. "We've been resilient all year long. Indiana defended their home court. Now we have to defend ours."

NOTES: George finished eighth and Hibbert came in 10th in Defensive Player of the Year balloting. George had eight first-place votes and 57 total points. Hibbert had three first-place votes and 36 total points. ... George was the fourth Pacers player since the start of the 1999-2000 season to win the Most Improved Player award. The others were Jalen Rose in 2000, Jermaine O'Neal in 2002 and Danny Granger in 2009. Granger presented the award to George before Wednesday's game, and George received a standing ovation. ... Atlanta's Teague got one vote in the Most Improved balloting. ... Granger, who is out for the season with a left knee injury, had a brace over the knee and walked with the help of a cane. ... Hibbert, a 7-foot-2 center, made a 3-pointer from the corner at the end of the first quarter, but it came just after the buzzer and did not count.
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