ATLANTA (AP) — The Indiana Pacers are questioning their toughness and dealing with speculation about a lineup change.
Hardly what’s expected from a No. 1 seed.
On the ropes again at the hands of the eighth-seeded Atlanta Hawks, the Pacers must figure out a way to recapture the form that carried them to the best record in the Eastern Conference.
Better do it quickly.
Led by Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver and taking advantage of a missed call, the Hawks reclaimed the upper hand in the series with a 98-85 victory Thursday night. They’re up 2-1 and looking to take a commanding lead in Game 4 at Atlanta on Saturday.
“We have a dream of winning it all,” Pacers star Paul George said. “We’ve got be much more tougher than that. I don’t think it’s there. Our toughness is questionable right now.”
Lance Stephenson led the Pacers with 21 points, and Luis Scola added 17 in another stellar performance off the bench. But George was held to 12 points on 3-of-11 shooting, George Hill made only 1-of-11 from the field, and 7-foot-2 Roy Hibbert continually missed shots close to the hoop.
Hibbert has scored only 18 points in the first three games on 7-of-25 shooting. Coach Frank Vogel was asked if he planned to make a change, especially given the Pacers had more success with their big man on the bench.
“We’re going to look at everything,” Vogel said. “He has not played well in the series to this point. But we still have confidence in Roy Hibbert.”
Hibbert’s teammates can’t figure out what’s going on.
“I don’t know,” David West said. “We’ve all tried to talk to him, keep him confident, you know. But he’s hurting. He wants to help us. He wants to play well. He’s hard on himself. But we’ve got to figure a way to get him involved. He’s got to figure a way to get himself involved.”
Atlanta, on the other hand, is playing with confidence and swagger – and even got a crucial call to go its way.
With the Hawks up 84-78 and the shot clock nearing zero, Teague flung in a wild 3-pointer from the wing after the officials missed him stepping out of bounds.
“I knew it was a 3,” Teague said. “Hopefully they just count it.”
They did, even after a video review. Referee Tony Brothers explained that officials took another look at the play merely to determine if Teague was behind the 3-point line when he shot. There wasn’t any doubt about that, and under NBA rules the only other thing the officials could look at was the position of Teague’s feet when the ball left his hand. He was clearly in bounds when he shot.
“A lot of times those plays that you draw up don’t work the way that you want them to,” Korver said. “You improvise and sometimes you throw stuff up as the shot clock’s coming down and it goes in.”
Korver clinched the victory with the last of his four treys, putting Atlanta up 92-80 with 1:41 remaining. That was only appropriate, since the Hawks made 10 3s in the second half after going 2-of-16 from long range in the first two quarters.
Teague scored 22 points and Korver added 20 for the Hawks, who took control in the third quarter – the decisive period in all three games – and pulled away down the stretch.
The Hawks stunned the Pacers in Game 1 at Indianapolis and led by as many as 11 in the first half of Game 2 before the Pacers dominated after halftime on the way to a series-tying victory.
This time, the Hawks surged to the lead in the third – just as they did in the series opener. Korver knocked down a 3-pointer from the corner off a fast break, prompting the Pacers to call a timeout. They needed another after Teague soared for a thunderous dunk off an Indiana turnover, pushing Atlanta to a 10-point lead, matching its biggest of the game to that point.
The Hawks went to the final quarter riding a wave of momentum when Lou Williams stepped back and swished a 3 with just 1.2 seconds left in the third, pushing Atlanta ahead 67-58.
Now, it’s time for Indiana to step up.
“We’re not going to panic,” West said. “We came down here to get one game, and that’s what we’re going to continue to do.”
NOTES: The Hawks improved to 15-2 against Indiana at Philips Arena since December 2006. … Both teams shot under 40 percent from the field. … DeMarre Carroll scored 18 points for Atlanta. … Stephenson had a double-double with 13 rebounds.
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