Paul George had struggled in Indiana’s game three loss to Atlanta, and through the first half of game four of the Eastern Conference first round series Saturday, George was still looking to get back on track. But the second half, an in particular, two huge plays down the stretch, proved to be a comeback moment for the best player on the court.
George scored 18 of his 24 points in the second half and made a 3-pointer to put Indiana ahead for good in a 91-88 victory at Philips Arena.
The top seed Pacers evened the best-of-seven series with the eighth-seeded Hawks at 2-2 with game five scheduled for Monday in Indianapolis.
Atlanta led 85-81 with four minutes to play before the Pacers scored the next eight points. Luis Scola hit a jumper and George grabbed a pass from David West and drained the go-ahead three with 2:11 to go. Jeff Teague turned the ball over at the other end, then George corralled an offensive rebound and found West, who had attempted and missed his only 3-pointer of the series way back in game one, but calmly knocked down a long ball with a minute and a half left that put the Pacers up 89-85.
Kyle Korver hit three free throws to get the Hawks to within 89-88, but the hosts didn’t score again.
“Got to give (Indiana) credit, they made shots,” Hawks guard DeMarre Carroll said.
Atlanta led by as much as 10 points at 54-44 on Carroll’s 3-pointer with nine minutes to go in the third. Indiana ended the period on a 22-11 spurt, nine of which came from George, whose alley-oop dunk put the visitors ahead 66-65 heading into the fourth.
The teams went back and forth in the final quarter with neither building a lead of more than five points. Teague hit a three from the top of the key at the 4:37 mark, but Atlanta went the rest of the game without a field goal.
“We had the game won, we just didn’t execute,” said Teague.
“We felt like we let one slip away,” added Carroll.
The Pacers led 29-22 after one and still held a seven-point advantage when the Hawks’ bench got going.
Mike Scott and Shelvin Mack scored seven points each (and Mack handed out a pair of assists), while Paul Milsap polished off an outstanding first half (18 points on 7 of 11 shooting) with six straight points during a 1:13 stretch, and Atlanta built its largest first half lead at 46-37 following an 11-0 run.
Milsap finished with a playoff career-high 29 points, though the forward didn’t score over the final nine minutes.
Indiana went more than four minutes without a field goal, yet closed to within 48-42 at the break, thanks to a George Hill-to-Lance Stephenson hook up for a dunk with 49 seconds to go until halftime.
Milsap got off to a fast start and the last of his 12 first-quarter points on a short jumper with just over two minutes to play helped pull the Hawks even at 22-22.
Indiana finished the quarter strong. Starting with a strong drive and dunk by Ian Mahinmi and including George’s second 3-pointer of the first, the Pacers closed the period on a 7-0 run and led 29-22.
The top seed scored the first eight points of the day as George and Stephenson each hit 3-pointers within the first 1:40 of the game. Teague found Milsap for a three and the Hawks’ first points of the game at the 9:09 mark.
Atlanta, 38-44 during the regular season, is hoping to avoid a third straight first-round exit and get back to the conference semifinals for the first time since 2011. Indiana, which won the Central Division and secured the No. 1 seed in the East with a 56-26 record, is trying to get return to the conference finals for the second consecutive season.
Game five will tip-off at 8 p.m. at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.