Hawks take 1-0 lead as Pacers’ late-season swoon continues
INDIANAPOLIS — Atlanta’s Jeff Teague demolished the Pacers’ grand playoff plan.
As his teammates set up around the 3-point line, Teague simply blew through open lanes to the basket repeatedly.
The Pacers didn’t have an answer.
Teague scored a playoff career-high 28 points, Paul Millsap added 25 and the eighth-seeded Hawks won their first road playoff game in three years, shocking top-seeded Indiana 101-93 to take a 1-0 lead in the first-round series.
“I just wanted to win,” the Indianapolis native said after beating his hometown team.
Perhaps that’s why Teague finally cracked a hesitant smile in the locker room before stepping to the podium.
Or it could be that Teague remembers the frustration Indiana caused when it clinched last year’s 4-2 first-round win on Atlanta’s home court. As one of the few remaining links to that team, Teague wasn’t about to let something like that happen again.
This time, surrounded by a mostly new group of 3-point shooters, a first-year coach and a game plan that the Pacers never adapted to, Teague kept getting to basket.
He wound up 9 of 19 from the field and 9 of 10 from the free throw line with five assists and three rebounds on a night the Hawks snapped an eight-game road losing streak in the playoffs and became the first team to beat Indiana on its home court twice this season.
Atlanta won its first road playoff game since Game 1 of the 2011 Eastern Conference semifinals at Chicago, and they’ll have a chance to do it all again Tuesday in Game 2 before the best-of-seven series moves to Atlanta, where the Pacers have won only two times since December 2006.
“I think getting off to such a good start against such a good team is important,” coach Mike Budenholzer said after his fifth win in six games. “It’s really not something we talked about. They’re the No. 1 seed for a reason.”
Meanwhile, the Pacers’ stunning struggles showed no sign of abating.
Indiana was just 5 of 19 from the field in the decisive third quarter and shot just 35.6 percent in the second half, a 24-minute span in which it spent most of the time trying to dig out of a double-digit hole.
Paul George had 24 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, while Lance Stephenson finished with 19 points and seven rebounds and George Hill added 12 points.
But the Hawks’ ability to spread the floor essentially nullified All-Star center Roy Hibbert, who had eight points and eight rebounds, and David West, who had eight points and three rebounds.
And Indiana wasted no time in giving back the home-court advantage it spent the entire season chasing.
“It’s frustrating. It’s frustrating, but it’s a long series,” George said before explaining he believes the Pacers can regain the upper hand — if they figure out how to defend better. “It’s just one game and that’s the way we have to look at it.”
That won’t be easy against this team.
Atlanta set a franchise playoff record with 30 3-point attempts and matched the franchise’s second-highest playoff total for 3-pointers made (11). Both were set May 10, 1996, when the Hawks were 12 of 27 on 3s in a 26-point loss to Orlando.
“I thought our ball movement was great,” Kyle Korver said after scoring 12 points. “That’s one of the things we’ve tried to play to all year and tonight it kind of worked out.”
They made it look easy, too.
Korver’s buzzer-beating putback, following an Indiana turnover in the closing seconds of the first half, tied the score at 50.
Atlanta then opened the third quarter with eight straight points and when the Pacers rallied to get within 60-58, Teague and Millsap took control.
Millsap opened the decisive 14-0 run with two free throws. Teague followed that with a driving layup, his only 3 of the game, another layup and two free throws. And when Millsap ended the run with a three-point play, the Pacers trailed 74-58.
They couldn’t even cut the lead to single digits until Stephenson’s 3 made it 99-91 with 33.6 seconds left and by then it was too late for the league’s best home team to rally.
“All year, we’ve encouraged Jeff to be aggressive,” Budenholzer said. “When he’s aggressive, it just creates opportunities for himself and opportunities for his teammates.”
And headaches for everyone else.
*Photo courtesy of Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images