INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – Atlanta coach Larry Drew tried desperately to send his players a message.
It takes more than talent to win in the NBA playoffs.
While the Hawks listened and responded with a better effort, it didn’t change a thing.
Paul George scored a playoff career-high 27 points, topping his previous best from three days earlier, and the Pacers rolled to a 113-98 victory for their first 2-0 series lead since the 2004 Eastern Conference semifinals.
“The margin for error against a team like this is very small and we have to be better as far as our defense is concerned,” Drew said. “Indiana did what they had to do, they defended their home court.”
Now the Hawks will get a chance to do the same at a venue where they have won 11 straight over the Pacers.
But this one will not be easy.
The Pacers have rolled through the first two games, winning both by double digits with defensive performances that have not allowed the Hawks to play their brand of basketball. Perhaps that much should be expected from one of the leagues’ best defenses.
But the problem is Atlanta can’t defend the Pacers shooters. Indiana produced its highest point total since routing the Lakers 120-87 in Game 5 of the 2000 NBA Finals. The Hawks, meanwhile, got 17 points from Devin Harris and 16 each from Jeff Teague and Josh Smith, who spent most of the game in foul trouble.
“They are being the more physical team, they are being more aggressive,” Al Horford said after finishing with 13 points and 10 rebounds. “I think this game, we really got caught up with the referees and we let that bother us too much.”
Indiana has made it look easy, too.
They matched Atlanta’s increased 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, George 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.
Everything is clicking for Indiana after a late-season stumble.
“Not only were they being physical, but they were trying to take 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, 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.
Smith, Atlanta’s top scorer, 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 Horford charged toward an official after being called for a technical foul. 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.
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.
By MICHAEL MAROT
AP Sports Writer