Hawks start fast, then hold off weary Pacers
January 8, 2014 (AP) – The Indiana Pacers always seem to struggle in Atlanta.
This was no exception.
Kyle Korver scored 17 points, Pero Antic added 16 and the Hawks raced to a big lead before holding off the team with the NBA’s best record, beating the weary Pacers 97-87 Wednesday night.
The Hawks snapped a three-game losing streak and extended Indiana’s misery at Philips Arena, where the Pacers (28-7) haven’t won since 2006. They dropped their 12th in a row in Atlanta, the team’s longest active road losing streak against any team.
“Guys didn’t have a lot of pop to start the game,” coach Frank Vogel said. “Shots weren’t falling, catches were a step slow in a lot of areas. But I’m proud of our guys for battling back in the second half, making it a game.”
Indiana looked very much like a squad playing its fourth game in five nights, not to mention having to deal with travel issues because of the arctic weather. The Pacers managed just 12 points in the first quarter and 32 in the opening half — both season lows.
Paul George led Indiana with 28 points. He didn’t get much help.
“This is definitely a winnable game for us, but it’s a tough stretch, four out of five, travel situations that we had,” George said. “It’s not an excuse, but it’s nothing to be down about at this point.”
The Hawks ended Indiana’s three-game winning streak, handing the Pacers just their second loss in 10 games.
“We were playing a great team,” said Antic, who scored 12 of his 16 in the first half. “We want to prove to everybody that we can win these type of games.”
Atlanta took advantage of their sluggish opponents right from the start, racing to a 12-0 lead before most of the sparse crowd had settled into their seats. The Hawks built a 49-32 lead by halftime and were up by as many 25 in the third quarter.
“Down 12 points to start the game off, you give a team like this all the confidence in the world, them playing at home,” George said. “They just played with confidence at that point. I felt like that’s where we lost the game.”
But the Eastern Conference leaders, who never led, weren’t about to go that easily.
They clamped down at the defensive end against a team that must spread things around to make up for the loss of center Al Horford, out with a season-ending injury. The Pacers picked it up offensively, too, scoring more points in the third quarter than they did in the first two combined.
Heading to the fourth, Atlanta’s lead was down to 79-66. The Pacers got as close as eight in the final period but finally ran out of steam, making only two of their last nine shots.
“We were climbing uphill the rest of the way and weren’t able to pull it out.” Vogel said.
Indiana played without guard Lance Stephenson, who didn’t dress because of a bruised right knee. Danny Granger started in his place, with George moving to Stephenson’s shooting guard spot.
George lit up the Hawks, knocking down 11 of 25 from the field — including three shots beyond the arc — and leading the Pacers with 12 rebounds. Granger with 14 points and George Hill with 10 were his only teammates in double figures, however.
The Hawks were much more balanced, overcoming a poor night by Paul Millsaps. Atlanta’s top scorer made only 1 of 10, but the other four starters were in double figures and Mike Scott added 15 off the bench.
Atlanta got a boost before the game when Horford, who had surgery a week ago for a torn pectoral muscle, stopped by the locker room.
“We’re still trying to figure things out without Al,” Korver said. “It takes time. We’re still not there, but tonight was a great win for our team.”
*Photo courtesy of Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images