Pacers survive, save season … for at least another day

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: Paul George talks to Rachel Nichols about the Pacers’ season-saving Game 4 effort in the win over the Hawks

ATLANTA – Survive and advance.

It’s a no-drills edict for each and every team in the NBA playoff field, but one that resonates in a particular way for a crew  built on the bedrock the Indiana Pacers have been crafted upon. An ugly win somewhere else is viewed differently in a locker room where David West rules the roost and a self-made, homegrown All-Star like Paul George reigns as the biggest talent.

There couldn’t have been a more fitting end to the Pacers’ physical Game 4 altercation with the Atlanta Hawks, a potentially series- and season-saving 91-88 slugfest that saw the No. 1 seed Pacers even things up with the No. 8 seed Hawks at 2-2 heading back for Game 5 Monday in Indianapolis.

George and West, with their back-to-back game-saving 3-pointers in a 21-second span with just two minutes to play, lifted the Pacers, at least temporarily, out of a funk that threatened their entire season.

It was twilight zone time when West sank his 25-footer, if for no other reason than he’s the last person on the Pacers’ roster anyone would expect to be in a position to take and make that shot. Roy Hibbert, who sat out the entire fourth quarter for the second straight game, was going wild as the Pacers rallied for a 89-85 lead with 1:33 to play. Meanwhile, Lance Stephenson, whose been known to lose his cool a time or two in the heat of the moment, is preaching for everyone to stay calm, reminding his teammates that there was plenty of game still to be played.

“We needed that moment,” Stephenson said. “we needed this game. We turned it around, it’s 2-2 and I feel like it’s 0-0 now. The whole game I felt like we played hard, but those last three minutes of the game I saw that will to win that had been missing. It was good to see it come back.”

The immediate effect was obvious. The music was on in the Pacers’ locker room after the game. There weren’t any questions about what’s ailing them and why they can’t seem to get right, on and off the floor. There was a reprieve from the inquisition that they’ve had to endure for weeks. An off-day roasting during a film session with Frank Vogel and his staff helped clear the air and refocus this beleaguered group as they hunkered down for what, until Monday, was their biggest game of the season.

“It’s the difference between a win and a loss,” Vogel said. “With playoff wins and playoff losses, there’s a great elation when you win and a great disappointment when you lose. There’s a big difference.”

For all of the grief they’ve taken since the All-Star break, it should be noted that the Pacers responded to their season being minutes away from being on the brink in the only way they know how, with a guts-to-the-floor second-half effort that had become their trademark early on this season.

They had to lock down on defense with 6.9 seconds to play as the Hawks attempted to tie the game and send it to overtime. The Hawks had to settle for a 27-footer from Pero Antic — not Kyle Korver, Paul Millsap or Jeff Teague, all of whom had shredded the Pacers in one way or another at times in the previous 47 minutes and 53 seconds — that bounced off the rim as time expired.

“We’re a half-court defensive team. We take pride in guarding guys half court,” a weary George said after playing a game-high 44 minutes and collecting team highs in points (24) and rebounds (10) to go along with 5 assists. “We knew Kyle Korver was the main option. George Hill did a great job fighting him over the screen and not letting him come back off. From that point, David West was locked in on his guy and we just forced them to take a tough shot.”

The Pacers know they don’t have to play Mozart to survive the Hawks in the first round of these playoffs. They can get by with chopsticks, provided they play like the No. 1 seed and not some shell of that team.

There are matchups that will cause problems. The Hawks, perhaps more than any other team in the Eastern Conference playoff field, present many. But this series is back on track, a best-of-three with the Pacers once again holding the home court advantage.

That’s what made Game 4, and those final 12 minutes, so unbelievably critical to the Pacers’ season-long cause.

“This game could have gotten away from us and we’d be down 3-1,” said George, who missed two free throws with 7.5 seconds to play that could have made that final defensive stand unnecessary. “It’s going to be a long series. This team is not going away. We just have to build some consistency.”

It has to come one game and one step at a time as the Pacers frantically rebuild their collective confidence, starting with Hibbert, Hill and Stephenson and on down the line.

“We know that this series may go to seven [games], you never know,” Hill said. “When Boston put together their Big 3, just about every series they had went to seven. Listen, we’re up for the challenge. And no matter what happens throughout the course of a game or a series, we’re built for this. We’re built to be physical, to be tough and to grind it out.”


VIDEO: The Pacers held on for a Game 4 win over the Hawks in Atlanta

17 Comments

  1. TROYBOY says:

    This Pacer team will be the best story in the NBA after these playoffs. After they beat the Hawks they will have an easier path through the Wizards. I’d rather see them deal with the adversity now and not during the Heat. If they can grind their way to the ECF than they’ll be the most Well-Tested team to come out of the East.

    We are so used to good teams going through bad teams in the first round of the Playoffs. At least for this year we are watching some good first round basketbll. We cimplain when it’s boring in the first rounds and yet when it’s competitive we start hating.

    The way I see it. This is probably the best first round of Playoff Basketball since they went to seven games. Please enjoy rather than whining especially fans of good teams that didn’t make it.

  2. Juan says:

    Scola was the solution!!, Hibbert please gou to the bench for the rest of the playoff

  3. rkaraff says:

    Feeding the rock to Hibbert in the paint or on the blocks was working early in the season; Atlanta has found ways to negate that, and other teams have, as well. Hibbert is obviously uncomfortable out there, almost no rhythm, almost no flow. He shows signs of the play that got him that big contract…here, and there…but not enough of it to be considered a threat. It may well be that Atlanta poses enough of a problem for Hibbert that Vogel will have to use him sparingly just to get past the Hawks…if that is even possible.
    Full Disclosure: I’ve been a Pacer fan since their ABA days. They were terrific with Slick Leonard and crew!

  4. Brian says:

    Why don’t people understand that it’s not necessarily about Talent, but more-so about matchups? The Hawks match up against the Pacers incredibly well, between their scheme and their players. Not to mention that if the Hawks were completely healthy the entire season, they probably would have been atleast a 4 seed rather than the 8. They’re one of the most talented 8 seeds I can recall seeing, alongside the Mavericks today.

    I was hoping the Pacers would get the 2nd seed and face the Bobcats. Compare the talent on the Bobcats roster to that of the Hawks overall. Outside of Big Al and Kemba, the Bobcats have nobody that can step up to make a difference. The hawks have plays like Teague or Korver who can make plays when they’re called upon

  5. vern says:

    Pacers shouldn’t be too happy. They got lucky because of a few bad decisions and quick shots by the Hawks coming down the stretch. If Atlanta wins this next game in Indy the Pacers need to pull out the fishing poles and start digging for worms.

  6. kobeballhog says:

    the most overrated team ever getting a dose of reality, i bet that the hawks will win the first round, the hawks are too much for an overrated team like tha pacers, i guarantee next game goes to the hawks spread those d apart hawks!

  7. jdub455 says:

    Pacers are in deep trouble against this team… the hawks are just having their way… they were beaten by those straight 3’s particularly wests’ shot… if the pacers lose game 5, this will be over…

  8. LJ6 lightsout required says:

    they are picked on cos they are d no 1 eastern seed and for starters hawks are not nearly half as good as the mavs for you to compare the spurs to pacers

  9. garret says:

    why is nobody talking about how great paul george has been not only holding teague to 38 percent shooting in his last three games but also averaging a double double with 21.8 ppg, 11 boards, two steals per game, and 5 apg is amazing

  10. okc2014 says:

    I’m also a Hawks fan, but glad the Pacers won. Hawks have no business (this season) being in the playoffs, or going beyond round 1. Just like the Charlotte Bobkittens have no business going beyond a game 4 (this season). The Pacers are a better team and need to man up. Playoffs are here!!!

  11. two says:

    if da pacers get outa da 1st round theyll lose in da second

  12. Patty says:

    WHY PICK ON ROY HIBBERT? PAUL GEORGE JUST STEPPED UP TODAY(4-26-14)

  13. ivica says:

    leave Pacers alone, don’t you see that each series is tough in its own way!
    why don’t you write something about Spurs being down 2 to 1. ? are they saving their season?
    it’s play offs , nothing comes easy..

    • Patty says:

      WE AGREE WITH YOU 100 PERCENT. WHY ARE THE NEWS MEDIA PICKING ON THE INDIANA PACERS?

      • Mike says:

        They always have something more negative to say. It was most obvious in the IND-MIA when they were both slumping. Miami was still the greatest team to ESPN, and the Pacers “may never come back”. Miami will win 1 game and they’re out of they’re slump, and they’ll question if we are. We will just have to win our way into the beloved of NBA teams, by being strong, like the Spurs did. They earned their respect, we just got to silence the critics that are waiting to say something bad, hopefully this year, but it’s coming sooner than later. I’d like to see how Evan Turner matures. If hibbert will be with us next year. Contrary to belief he gets paid more than Paul George does. Highest paid player on our team. I hope they get him involved more, they’ve been missing it all season. If your going to pay the guy big bucks, put the ball in his hand. I would be rusty too if I didn’t get shots, for months.
        That’s where we messed up. Vogel is starting to realize it. Why are shooting percentage went down. etc…. because Hibbert wasn’t getting his shots. We aren’t Golden State our some college team that lives and dies by the long 2 pointer. We make shots by creating open ones and feeding it into Hibbert, they got to run more plays for him, that makes it easier to get in position. Its all about size and strength after that.

      • Aaron says:

        Because they talked a big game and they’e not living up to their hype. Spurs players stay humble and don’t toot their own horns…