Atlanta blitzed Indiana, who was playing on the 2nd game of a back-to-back sequence, with a 10-0 run to open the game, and Pero Antic was the driving force in the early going. Antic had 8 of the 10 points during the Hawks’ spurt in the first 4 minutes, and they didn’t let up for the remainder of the half. The team lengthened their early 10-point advantage into a 13-point lead at the end of the 1st quarter, and parlayed that into an unlikely 17-point lead at the half.
Mike Budenholzer was quick to praise the defense for the edge in the early going, and that was echoed by the stats. Atlanta held the visiting Pacers to just 32.5% from the field in the first 24 minutes, and that was highlighted by some incredible work against Indiana’s version of the “big 3″. Paul George, David West, and Roy Hibbert combined to shoot 1-for-15 in the half, and while they wouldn’t be held down for the duration of the night, it was an undeniably encouraging sign. In addition, the team forced (at least) three shot clock violations during the course of the game, and that is always a positive indicator of a focused, disciplined defense.
After the break, the Hawks built the lead to their biggest margin of the night at 65-40, and at that stage, a cruising victory looked to be in the works. Unfortunately, Indiana did have a run in them, and it came in what seemed like a blink of an eye. The Pacers cut into the deficit with a 15-4 spurt that made the score 69-55, and they continued to whittle down the advantage until it reached single-digits in the 4th quarter. Fortunately for the home team, a 9-point difference was as close as Indy could get, and with the help of some solid free throw shooting and execution, the winning margin was set at 10.
Balance was the key word for the Hawks offensively in the game, and frankly, there was no “standout” offensive performance from any of Atlanta’s big guns. The aforementioned Pero Antic had, by far, the best game in terms of a normal baseline, as he scored 16 points (including the quick 8 in the opening minutes) in 27 minutes, and only Kyle Korver’s 17-point output surpassed Pero in the scoring column. However, the Hawks did place 5 players in double-digits, including 15 points off the bench from Mike Scott (who was huge at times) and a 15-point, 6-assist, 5-rebound night from point guard Jeff Teague.
It was borderline amazing to see the Hawks defeat a team like Indiana without a big night from either Teague or Paul Millsap, but that’s exactly what happened. While Teague put up a respectable stat line, Millsap’s offensive struggles continued, as the star power forward (and All-Star hopeful) shot just 1-for-10 from the field in route to 4 points. Still, he contributed in other ways, holding David West in check throughout the night and adding 5 assists, but there are certainly better days ahead for Paul.
DeMarre Carroll was the focus of Budenholzer’s post-game admiration, as Coach Bud said that he “really set the tone for (us) with his defense and activity”. DeMarre had the unfortunate assignment of dealing with All-World wing Paul George, but he was more than up to the challenge. George finished with 28 points and 12 rebounds, but it was a highly misleading stat line, as he was held to just 11-for-25 from the field, and much of the damage was done in “catch-up” mode late in the game. DeMarre’s defense has been key all season for the Hawks, and tonight, his offense was solid as well, adding 11 points and 4 assists in over 38 minutes of court action.
On Kyle Korver watch, the sharpshooter continued his all-time NBA streak in addition to leading the team in scoring. Kyle kept the streak rolling with a 4-point play at the 9:41 mark of the 3rd quarter, and he wasn’t done there, knocking down 2 additional triples in the second half. Indiana’s defense presented the toughest statistical task of any to date for Korver, but he passed the test with flying colors, and the streak now stands at 105 games.
All in all, it was an undeniably positive evening at the office for the Hawks. The win keeps the team over .500 on the season at 19-17, and to grab this type of victory over the East’s best team brings a big-time sense of energy (copyright, Larry Drew) to the club. Atlanta will have the opportunity to follow it up with another game against a “contender” (the Houston Rockets) on Friday, but until then, they’ll be able to enjoy the fruits of their labor.