Atlanta Hawks guard Jeff Teague (0) shows emotion after making a shot against the Indiana Pacers in the fourth quarter in game three of the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Philips Arena. The Hawks defeated the Pacers 98-85. (USA TODAY Sports: Brett Davis)
ATLANTA —The Atlanta Hawks are not intimidated by the top-seeded Indiana Pacers and are on the verge of taking a commanding lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference series. The Hawks will try to grab a 3-1 advantage when they host the Pacers in game four today.
Indiana appeared to straighten itself out in the second game and made some changes to the lineup that helped against Atlanta’s spread offense, but it still could not stop point guard Jeff Teague.
Teague scored 11 of his 22 points in the final five minutes as the Hawks turned a close game into a relative blowout with a 98-85 Game 3 triumph. The Pacers left Roy Hibbert and his continued slump on the bench in the fourth quarter in favor of Luis Scola’s more diverse offensive game but off-nights from Paul George and George Hill doomed the Indiana offense. David West came up with 16 points for Indiana in game three and is not worried about being down in the series. “We came down (to Atlanta) to get one game, and that’s what we’re intending to do,” West told reporters.
In Thursday’s game, forward Lance Stephenson’s layup had just cut Atlanta’s lead to six with three minutes to play and the Hawks’ ensuing possession was falling apart.
Pressured in front of his bench, Teague barely avoided stepping out of bounds and was forced to toss up a contested 3-pointer on the run with the shot clock running out. Swish.
It’s been that kind of stretch for the unraveling Pacers, and the upstart Hawks gladly added to their woes with a 98-85 win Thursday at raucous Philips Arena
Teague led all scorers with 22 points, and the Hawks hit 10 3-pointers in the second half to take a 2-1 series lead. Game 4 is Saturday in Atlanta, where the Pacers have won only twice in their last 11 games.
Atlanta guard Kyle Korver hit four 3-pointers, including a dagger shot from the corner that put the Hawks up 12 with 1:40 left. Korver finished with 20 points, and forward DeMarre Carroll added 18 for an Atlanta team looking to become the sixth eight seed to win a first-round playoff series.
“That was the best Hawks crowd I’ve ever been a part of,” said Korver. “It’s one thing to cheer when your team makes a play. It’s another thing to cheer your team to make a play. I thought a couple of times, when we were down, it really got us going. That was really awesome tonight. We really felt the energy.”
The Pacers, who are just 16-16 since the All-Star break, again got subpar performances from their top playmakers. Forward Paul George got in early foul trouble and didn’t score in the first half. He finished with 16 points and 14 rebounds, but scored just three points in the fourth quarter.
“It was a tough time for our guys,” said Indiana coach Frank Vogel. “You’ve got to credit the Hawks. They played better basketball than we did. “We’ve got to do a better job creating shots for ourselves. We’ve got to share the basketball a little bit better. We have to execute a little bit better. We’ve got to get the confidence to step up and make the good looks.”
Indiana center Roy Hibbert was a non-factor and had only four points and two rebounds in 19 minutes of action. Hibbert missed several shots wildly, failed to handle seemingly easy passes and sat out for the majority of second half.
After a Hibbert turnover in the first half, cameras caught Indiana team president Larry Bird burying his head in his hands. The Hawks finished burying the Pacers in the second half.
“We’ve all tried to talk to him and keep him confident,” Indiana forward David West said of the struggling Hibbert. “It’s hurting him. He wants to help us and he wants to play well. He’s hard on himself. We’ve got to figure out a way to get him involved. It’s a long playoff series, so we’re not going to panic. We came down here to get one game, and that’s what we’re intending to do.”
Atlanta shot 30 percent in the first half and made just two of 16 3-pointers, allowing Indiana to stay close. The Hawks led 39-38 at halftime, but got hot in the third quarter.
“Our group is confident when it comes to shooting,” said Hawks first-year coach Mike Budenholzer. “Even after the two of 16 in the first half, they know we believe in it (the 3-point shot) and they know it’s part of how we want to play.”
Carroll was the energizer in the third quarter. The fourth-year forward out of Missouri hit a pair of 3-pointers and converted a traditional three-point play in the third to help Atlanta’s lead grow to 10. He also took the charge that gave George his second foul and sent him to the bench with 8:45 left in the first quarter. Atlanta hit eight 3-pointers in the third quarter.
“Coach really relies on me and told me before the season that he wants me to guard the best player every night,” said Carroll. “That’s what I wanted to do. I’m trying to be one of the elite defenders.”
Stephenson led the Pacers with 21 points and fueled Indiana’s last charge with big plays on both ends of the court. He had 12 points, two assists and two steals in the fourth. But the Hawks always had an answer. Sometimes it was a 3-pointer; other times it was by getting to the free-throw line. Atlanta outscored the Pacers 30-16 at the foul line.