INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana had everything covered Wednesday night.
When Atlanta tried to get tough, the Pacers buckled down and got even tougher. When the Hawks tried to run, the Pacers simply slowed them down. And when the Hawks tried to rally, well, the Pacers punched back with Paul George, George Hill or any other open shooter.
The result was the same.
George scored 27 points, his second straight playoff career high, Hill finished with 22 and the Pacers pulled away from the reeling Hawks 113-98 to take their first 2-0 lead in a playoff series since the 2004 Eastern Conference semifinals.
“We naturally just play physical,” George said. “It wasn’t like ‘Hey, let’s play physical, let’s retaliate.’ That’s just how we play. That’s how we approach the game. We just have to keep playing how we play.”
Indiana made it look easy.
They matched Atlanta’s intensity step for step, and when they had a chance to put things away, they didn’t hesitate.
Three days after George posted the second triple-double in the franchise’s NBA postseason history, he put on another brilliant show. The league’s Most Improved Player rebounded from a 3-for-13 shooting effort to go 11 of 21. He finished with eight rebounds, three assists, four steals and turned in another sterling defensive performance as the Pacers won their fourth straight at home over Atlanta.
There was plenty of credit to go around.
After a slow start, Hill knocked down four 3-pointers before hitting his right elbow hard on the court late in the game. He said he expects to play in Game 3 on Saturday.
Roy Hibbert wound up with 15 points and nine rebounds, and Gerald Green came off the bench, made his first three 3s and finished with 15 points. Indiana, which relied primarily on defense to win its first Central Division crown in nine years, has topped the 100-point mark in consecutive playoff games. And the 113 points was the highest postseason total for the Pacers since a 120-87 rout over the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2000 NBA Finals.
Everything seems to be clicking for Indiana after a late-season stumble to the finish.
“Not only were they being physical, but they were trying to our air space and trying to pressure us more defensively, trying to force more turnovers,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “We had less turnovers in Game 2 than we did in Game 1.”
For the Hawks, their second straight double-digit loss means two more days of misery.
Following Game 1, coach Larry Drew chastised his players for their continual complaints about calls and their sub-par effort. The Hawks vowed to make amends Wednesday and they did play harder.
But, at times, it got them in trouble.
Atlanta’s top scorer, Josh Smith, played with a sprained right ankle but wound up on the bench with two fouls barely 2 minutes into the game. He spent the rest of the game in foul trouble and finished with 16 points and six rebounds.
In the second quarter, an uncharacteristically angry Al Horford charged toward an official after being called for a technical foul. Devin Harris alertly grabbed Horford with both arms and pulled him away — a play that kept Horford and the Hawks in the game a bit longer. The Hawks’ other big inside players, Johan Petro and Ivan Johnson, wound up in foul trouble in the second half, and the combination allowed Indiana to again shoot more free throws and again finish with the rebounding edge.
What can Atlanta do now?
At least the Hawks are heading home and will play the next two games in a venue where they have won 11 straight over the Pacers.
The bad news: Indiana seems to have an answer for anything Atlanta tries.
Harris led the Hawks with 17 points and Jeff Teague added 16.
“They handled their home court and now Game 3 is crucial for us, and now we have to handle ours,” Horford said. “I think we need to have better ball movement on offense and I think we’ll be all right.”
But in many ways, Wednesday looked a whole lot like Sunday.
After scoring the first six points in Game 1, Atlanta opened Wednesday’s game with the first five points. Then, just like Sunday, the Pacers rallied to take the lead after one quarter. Indiana extended its 25-19 lead to 59-50 at halftime and to 16 late in the third quarter. The Hawks did get within 88-76 after three, then watched Indiana go on a 9-0 run midway through the fourth quarter to take a 104-85 lead with 5:41 to go and never got another chance to make it close.
“The end of the season was kind of sluggish for us, kind of out of character for us,” Green said. “But this is the most important time in basketball right now and we’re confident going to Atlanta 2-0.”
Notes: Indiana lost starting guard Lance Stephenson late in the first quarter when he landed hard on his right hip after being called for a charge. He was diagnosed with a bruised right hip and did not return until the start of the second half. … The Hawks have lost four straight to Indiana, all at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. … The free-throw discrepancy continued Wednesday. Indiana is 51 of 63 from the line over the first two games. Atlanta is just 18 of 34.