The Indiana Pacers came into Wednesday’s game with the best record and top defense in the NBA. None of that seemed to matter much to the Atlanta Hawks.
Kyle Korver scored 17 points to lead five in double figures as the Hawks handed Indiana just its seventh loss of the season 97-87 at Philips Arena.
Indiana (28-7) was allowing an NBA-best 88 points per game and was the league-leader in field goal percentage defense and three-point defense, but the Hawks (19-17) shot 45 percent from the field and made 10-of-23 from three-point range in the first meeting between the teams since Indiana won game six to clinch a first round playoff series in May.
The hosts led the entire game and by as much as 65-40 with 7:42 to play in the third, then Indiana spent the rest of the period trying to climb back into the game.
Thanks to Danny Granger and Paul George, who combined for 21 points in the third, Indiana trimmed the deficit to 71-60 on George’s 3-pointer at the 2:31 mark.
It was an 89-80 game after a tip-in by Luis Scola with just under six minutes to go in the game, which led to an Atlanta time out. The Hawks’ lead didn’t fall below eight points the rest of the way.
“Their defense, it’s outstanding,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said of Indiana. “They’re one of the best at taking away everything, and we were fortunate to be able to make some shots.”
Indiana got off to a dreadful start. The Central Division leaders didn’t score until George hit a 3-pointer at the 7:21 mark of the opening quarter and missed 12 of their first 13 attempts.
Meanwhile, Pero Antic had eight early points, including a pair of 3-pointers, helping the Hawks take a 12-0 lead before George put the visitors on the scoreboard.
Later in the quarter, Jeff Teague had two baskets, one a runner after a nice ball fake as part of the point guard’s 15-point night, and Lou Williams drained a three in the corner to give Atlanta a 25-12 cushion after one.
Indiana made it a nine-point game early in the second as C.J. Watson came off the bench and had seven points within the first four minutes of the period, but Atlanta’s bench was equally effective.
Mike Scott had nine of his 15 points in the quarter, including a 3-pointer and a put back, that helped Atlanta equal its largest lead of the half at 44-27.
The Hawks made half of their 40 field goal attempts and held Indiana to just 32 percent from the field in leading 49-32 at halftime.
It was Indiana’s lowest-scoring half since a 30-point effort in game three of the series with the Hawks April 27.
“It was one of our best defensive games, particularly the first half. The activity and the effort and the energy was very high,” said Budenholzer. “Obviously it helps if we make some shots and we got off to a good start with that. We got a competitive group and if you keep doing that you’re able to compete with some of the best teams in the league, like Indiana.”
Antic had 16 points and DeMarre Carroll added 11 for the Hawks. George had game-highs in points (28) and rebounds (12) for Indiana, which fell to 11-6 on the road.