ATLANTA – After all that, this is how it could end.
To the Hawks of all people.
A season that began with hopes for a NBA Championship suddenly was on the line just six games into a playoffs series against an sub-.500 team in the first day of May. A sluggish finish to the season seem to have a fitting nightmare end waiting for it on Thursday evening.
But the ending to this script has still yet to be written.
With an emotional performance the Pacers rallied in the fourth quarter to beat the Hawks 95-88 in Game 6 and tie the series at three games apiece. A winner-take-all Game 7 will be played Saturday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Paul George and David West led Indiana with 24 points each, and it was the latter’s one-handed jumper with 46 seconds left that gave the Pacers the lead for good. Lance Stephenson also contributed 21 points, an effort that was essential to overcome a huge game by Indianapolis native Jeff Teague, who had a game-high 29 points. He was held scoreless in the final three minutes when the Pacers held the Hawks to just four total points.
Old problems crept back in the beginning as Frank Vogel opened the game with his typical lineup instead of potential changes which were hinted at before Game 6. With Roy Hibbert again ineffective–he collected two fouls in seven minutes of play without a point or rebound–Atlanta quickly jumped out to a 17-7 lead. A smaller Pacers lineup helped to stop the bleeding and Chris Copeland’s three-pointer before the end of the quarter got the Pacers to within two.
With the Hawks struggling from the field, the Pacers were able to take a bit of an advantage. They would build the lead to as many as five in the middle part of the quarter before the Hawks rallied back to tie. But Indiana would re-establish it in the final seconds when George Hill knocked down and three-pointer before the second quarter horn to put the Pacers up 44-39 at the half.
It was their first halftime lead of the series.
Stephenson helped to keep the momentum going early in the second half and gave the Pacers a seven-point lead with a layup with 6:05 to go in the quarter. But Jeff Teague took over late in the quarter to put the Hawks back in the lead, hitting a spinning layup and then a fadeaway shot in the final 30 seconds to send the Hawks to the fourth up 67-64.
Indiana would claw back to grab the lead on a Hill lay-up with 5:22 to play, but the Hawks quickly went back up by five on a pair of quick Teague buckets with 3:15 left to go. Then the Pacers made their rally with six consecutive points and got the lead on another Hill layup with 1:59 left.
West then gave the Pacers the lead back once again with a bucket in the paint with 46 seconds to go. The Blue and Gold never let it go as they forced Game 7.