INDIANAPOLIS – All of the work over a long and grueling 82 game NBA regular season finally paid of on Saturday.
The problem was that the reward came about a month earlier than the Pacers would have like.
Instead of hosting a Game 7 against the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, Frank Vogel’s team had to use that extra home game in their opening round series against the eigth-seeded Hawks to just continue their postseason.
But their efforts-while perhaps intended for the future of these NBA Playoffs-paid off on an early Saturday afternoon of “Win or Go Home” basketball.
The Pacers used a late first half run to get ahead of the Hawks and never looked back to beat Atlanta 92-80 in Game 7 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Indiana wins a series that may have been more competitive than they would have like 4-3 and advance to the Semifinals where they will face the Washington Wizards.
Paul George led the Pacers with 30 points while Roy Hibbert turned in his best game of the playoffs with 13 points, seven rebounds and five blocks. Lance Stephenson recorded a double-double with 19 points and a team-high 14 rebounds while David West collected 13 boards as the Pacers dominated the glass 55-38.
Normally hot from the outside, Atlanta cooled off at a record pace on Saturday night. They shot an NBA regulation playoff game record 44 three-point attempts and hit just 11 of them which kept Atlanta from ever mounting a serious challenge after a 13-0 Pacers second quarter run gave them the lead for good.
After being absent for the better part of six games, Hibbert finally emerged from his offensive slump and scored eight first quarter points-equaling his top point output of the series through six games. That along with a 7-0 run to end the first quarter gave the Pacers as 24-23 lead after one quarter.
Seven lead changes were the highlight of the first half of the second quarter before the Pacers’ made their most decisive run of the game to that point. Trailing by one at 34-33, the Pacers took off on a 13-0 run behind Paul George and Lance Stephenson to build a 47-36 halftime lead.
To finish it off, Ian Mahinmi came up with a rejection of Jeff Teague as the first half expired.
Indiana continued its momentum into the second half continuing to control play as their defense forced the Hawks into a prolonged shooting slump. George Hill’s jumper and foul from the corner put the Pacers up by a game-high 17 points midway through the third quarter. Atlanta wouldn’t relent and with some solid shooting from Shelvin Mack and Mike Scott were able to get the lead down to eight at the end of the quarter.
George kept the Hawks at an arm’s length early in the fourth quarter as the forward scored six quick points to push the Pacers up by 13 and while the Hawks continued to fight, it wasn’t nearly enough to end the Pacers season much earlier than many would have anticipated.