INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — When the Indiana Pacers needed a lift. Paul George stepped up. All over the court, over and over again.
George had 27 points, 10 rebounds and six assists, and the Pacers used a big second-half run to rally for a 101-85 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday night in Game 2 of their first-round playoff series.
George Hill scored each of his 15 points in the second half, helping top-seeded Indiana earn a split of the first two postseason games at home. George also had four steals and blocked a shot while helping keep Hawks point guard Jeff Teague in check.
“That’s why he was in the MVP conversation early,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “He always does those types of things, guarding the best perimeter player, rebounding the ball, deflecting the ball. His hands were all over the place. It makes him one of the most complete players in the game when he plays like he did tonight.””
The Pacers sure needed it.
For seven weeks, Indiana heard everyone question its fortitude, team chemistry, even whether it was worthy of a No. 1 seed. The complaints grew louder after Saturday’s 101-93 loss. George and his teammates spent the next 72 hours seeking solutions and defiantly insisting they would be OK.
On Tuesday, they finally reverted to their early season from.
Indiana limited the Hawks to 33 second-half points and dominated the third quarter. Next up is Game 3 on Thursday in Atlanta, where the Pacers have only two wins since December 2006 — though one of those closed out last year’s first-round playoff series in six games.
“We want to build on what we’ve got going,” Indiana forward David West said. “We want to continue to be aggressive. We know they’re going to play better at home, but we’re going down there to get back in charge of this series.”
George was 9 for 16 from the field, including a 5-for-7 performance from 3-point range. He also went 4 for 4 at the line.
Perhaps more importantly, he managed to contain Teague after he burned Indiana for 28 points in Game 1. George wanted the responsibility of guarding Teague, who had seven points in the first quarter and seven more for the rest of the game.
“I sat down and it was homework for me, just locking into his tendencies and figuring out where I will get beat or where I’m vulnerable against him,” George said. “It’s a challenge.”
George was the catalyst, but he had plenty of help.
Hill, who had been mired in an offensive funk, made 5 of 6 shots in the second half. Luis Scola, who kept the Pacers close when West got into early foul trouble, finished with 20 points and seven rebounds. The defense that gave up 11 3-pointers in Game 1 and eight more in the first half of Game 2, allowed just two over the final 24 minutes.
“Our execution on both ends of the court wasn’t at the level we need it to be,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “Give them credit, they were aggressive, they made a lot of plays and our execution, particularly in the third quarter has to be better. That’s what we’ll work on.”
Indiana appeared to be in trouble when it trailed 38-27 in the second quarter and was still down 52-48 at halftime. But the Pacers stormed into the lead with a 31-13 third quarter.
West sparked a 25-2 run with a bank shot that made it 70-65 with 3:20 left in the third. George made a buzzer-beating 3 to make it 79-65 heading into the fourth, and the Pacers scored the first eight points of the final period.
“If that’s what it took for everyone to understand how close this team is, that’s what it was,” George said. “We’ve got each other’s back and that’s what it felt like.”