INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Pacers got tired of talking trash.
That left them with plenty of energy to handle the Hawks on Tuesday night.
Paul George scored 27 points, George Hill added 15 in the second half and that suffocating defense that seemed to vanish over the past few weeks was back in force. Atlanta couldn’t contend with the Pacers’ resurgent combination, falling 101-85 and into a 1-1 tie in the best-of-seven playoff series.
“We put our print on this game in the third quarter, which we’ve done when playing November, December and January basketball,” George said. “We got back to that (Tuesday). I thought we did a great job of locking in after coming out in the second half. We just stayed the course.”
For weeks, all the talk has been about the “implosion.”
After starting 33-7, Indiana finished 56-26 yet somehow managed to hold onto the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. On Saturday, they gave home-court advantage right back to the Hawks, prompting TNT commentator Charles Barkley to call the Pacers “wussies,” reigniting the debate over whether they were worthy of a No. 1 seed.
For the next 72 hours, George and his teammates were constantly questioned again about what was wrong. For the next 72 hours, they defiantly insisted everything would be OK.
On Tuesday, it was.
Now Indiana must prove it can maintain this level of play, starting with Game 3 in Atlanta on Thursday. The Pacers have only two wins in Atlanta since December 2006, though one of those closed out last year’s first-round playoff series in six games.
“We couldn’t go down 0-2. We’re still down in the series, but we feel good about where we are,” David West said. “The most encouraging thing is the way we played defensively. We didn’t allow (Jeff) Teague to play playground basketball on us. We took that personally, a little bit.”
Perhaps, a lot.
Indiana limited the Hawks to 33 second-half points and dominated the third quarter.
George added 10 rebounds, six assists, four steals and one block while going 9 of 16 from the field, 5 of 7 on 3-pointers, and 4 for 4 at the free-throw line. Plus, he contained Teague after the Hawks’ point guard burned Indiana for 28 points in Game 1. George wanted the challenge of guarding Teague, who had seven points in the first quarter and seven more the rest of the game.
“I sat down and it was homework for me, just locking into his tendencies and figuring out where I will get beat or where I’m vulnerable against him,” George said. “It’s a challenge.”
George was the catalyst, but he had plenty of help.
Hill, who had been mired in an offensive funk, made 5 of 6 shots in the second half. Luis Scola, who kept the Pacers close when West got into early foul trouble, finished with 20 points and seven rebounds. The defense that gave up 11 3-pointers in Game 1 and eight more in the first half of Game 2, allowed just two over the final 24 minutes.
“Our execution on both ends of the court wasn’t at the level we need it to be,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “Give them credit, they were aggressive, they made a lot of plays and our execution, particularly in the third quarter, has to be better. That’s what we’ll work on.”
Indiana appeared to be in trouble when it trailed 38-27 in the second quarter and was down 52-48 at halftime. But the Pacers stormed into the lead with a 31-13 third quarter.
West sparked a 25-2 run with a bank shot that made it 70-65 with 3:20 left in the third. George made a buzzer-beating 3 to make it 79-65 heading into the fourth, and the Pacers scored the first eight points of the final period.
“If that’s what it took for everyone to understand how close this team is, that’s what it was,” George said. “We’ve got each other’s back and that’s what it felt like.”
NOTES: Atlanta was trying to open a playoff series with two straight road wins for the first time since the St. Louis Hawks swept Baltimore 3-0 in the 1966 Western Division semifinals. … Defending Indianapolis 500 champion Tony Kanaan attended the game. … Atlanta outscored Indiana 30-16 in the third quarter Saturday.