The Indiana Pacers fought to get what they wanted all season long Thursday night: a Game Seven at home. They just probably didn’t expect it to be the Atlanta Hawks. In the first round of the playoffs.
The Pacers closed out a back-and-forth game with a 16-4 run leading to the 95-88 road victory. The big question now is will the energy and momentum carry over to what could be the final game of the season?
David West basically willed this team to victory. He scored 10 of his 24 points in the final six minutes of play, and becoming unguardable to the Hawks. He also recorded a double-double with 11 rebounds. West had six assists and two steals in the pivotal game as well.
“I talked with Paul (George) and said that it would be him or me. Down the stretch.” West said after the game.
Paul George had an impressive game as well, tying West with 24 points. George hit four free throws in the final minute of play to ice the game. He also had eight rebounds and three assists. This was the first game of the series where he didn’t record a double-double.
Lance Stephenson had about the quietest 21 points you can have in a game of this magnitude. He shot nearly 54-percent from the field and hauled in nine rebounds. There were times where it looked like Stephenson would implode on the court, but he managed to pull himself together and be productive.
George Hill, who hasn’t been all that effective in this series, came alive late in the game after a slow start. He had 14 points, four assists, and four rebounds. Hill managed to hit a number of big shots that kept the Pacers within striking distance, like a buzzer beating three-pointer at the end of the third quarter.
Coach Frank Vogel finally went with the smaller athletic lineups for most of the game, something we’ll need to see more of on Saturday. Roy Hibbert played just 12 minutes, but still started the game and his ineffectiveness essentially spotted the Hawks an early 10 point lead. Luis Scola, who has been a huge defensive liability, never saw the court.
Vogel basically went with a three man rotation of Ian Mahinmi, Chris Copeland, and C.J. Watson. The trio combined for just 12 points, but showed up on the stat sheet in other ways. Mahinmi didn’t score a point but had six rebounds, a steal, and two blocks.
Copeland had just five points and three rebounds but managed to provide crucial floor spacing that opened up the lane for Stephenson and George. Watson finished with seven points, three rebounds and a pair of steals. Watson was just 3-of-9 from the field, but did have a number of good looks that he’ll likely hit at home.
The complete overhaul of the rotation was encouraging, but it shouldn’t have taken so long to get to this point. Had Vogel made these adjustments by game three, the Pacers wouldn’t be heading to a game seven.
There is a slight possibility that the Pacers could be without George for the final game. Hill got into an altercation with Mike Scott during the game, and George took a step off the bench. Per NBA rules, leaving the bench during a fight or altercation is subject to a one game suspension. That decision would basically give the game to the Hawks, unless they also suspend the five Atlanta players who jumped onto the court at the same time. It seems unlikely that the NBA would decide a game in this fashion.
The two teams clash once again on Saturday in Indianapolis with tip-off at 5:30PM with the broadcast on TNT.