ATLANTA ( exclusive) --  If Wednesday night's season opener between the Pacers and Hawks were viewed as just one contest in what will be an 82-game season, the visitors left both bandaged and in need of serious reinforcements.

The Pacers lost 120-109 at Philips Arena, and to make the wound hurt all the more, for quite a while they lost complete track of their primary goal entering the season: Play better defense.

In that regard, both teams fell down early as Atlanta took a 66-65 halftime lead.

The teams made a combined 85 of 160 shots (53.1 percent) in the game, but it looked more egregious for the Pacers because on the dry-erase board in their locker room before the game, the first several preaching points all related to D: Pressure the ball, think deflections, contest every shot.

Yet Indiana had one steal in the entire game and no blocked shots in the first half (four overall), while allowing the Hawks to make 26 of 46 shots.

On the flip side, Atlanta coach Mike Woodson was pleased to see some proof that his team may be more diverse on offense than last year, even if he moved no closer to sorting out what for the time being is a six-man perimeter rotation.

He had no right to be happy, however, with his team's first-half defense after Indiana made an inexcusable 24 of 38 shots (63.2 percent), including six of nine 3-pointers.

"I definitely think we've got what it takes, but tonight was a poor effort defensively," said Atlanta guard Joe Johnson, who scored a team-high 25 points. "On the perimeter, we didn't fight through screens and allowed those guys to get open shots."

Indiana, though, allowed 106.2 points per game last season, 26th worst in the NBA.

Wednesday? Worse.

The Pacers surrendered 52.9 percent shooting (46 of 87), including seven of 12 three-pointers. So where did Indiana coach Jim O'Brien's message get lost?

"That's what's so disappointing," said Pacers All-Star forward Danny Granger, who led all scorers with 31 points. "A lot of times we just threw the ball out of bounds, or miscommunicated with our teammates."

Given Atlanta's offseason acquisition of guard Jamal Crawford via a trade with Golden State and the drafting of guard Jeff Teague, Woodson will eventually have to do some juggling with his rotation. Slotting minutes for Crawford and Teague with returnees Mike Bibby, Johnson, Marvin Williams and Maurice Evans will be no walk in the park.

Woodson had no issues Wednesday, as all five starters plus reserve Evans hit double figures in scoring. Center Al Horford had a huge game with 24 points, 16 rebounds and four assists.

"There's a lot that's going on in terms of me trying to get guys happy and comfortable playing," Woodson said. "Our bench is going to play a major role, and I've got to show them some love and make them feel a part of it."

The Hawks will not win as consistently as expected (they're widely considered the fourth-best team in the East) with Wednesday's formula, and not only because future opponents will bother defending them.

Atlanta registered 16 steals, and the Pacers coughed the ball up another nine times on their own as the Hawks rode those miscues into a whopping 25-11 edge in points off turnovers. "Even more alarming than the defense was the 25 turnovers," Granger said. "We actually shot a better percentage than they did and lost by 11."

Indiana's invisible defense and propensity for giving the ball away should have sent the Hawks off the races, but the Pacers stayed close until the final eight minutes by slaughtering Atlanta on the boards.

The final spread favored Indiana just 46-41 (including team rebounds), but through three quarters the Hawks' starting forwards Williams and Smith combined for just one rebound, helping the Pacers to a 37-27 edge on the glass.

Atlanta out-rebounded Indiana 14-9 in the fourth quarter, though, and held the Pacers to 5 of 15 shooting when it mattered most.

Earl Watson's 3-pointer gave Indiana a 101-100 lead with 9:04 left in the game. Then, the Hawks got stingy.

From there, the Pacers scored just one point over the next six-plus minutes and trailed 112-102.

Over that span, Granger was called for traveling, Roy Hibbert turned the ball over, Watson threw a ball away, Dahntay Jones turned the ball over, and Troy Murphy coughed one up. No doubt, Indiana helped the host team Wednesday night.

Or perhaps the Hawks are developing that rare collective sense and ability in the NBA of not only knowing when to turn on the gas, but also being able to do it.

That's what Woodson would like to think.

"That is the sign of a pretty good team when you can do that because a lot of times games are won in the last five or six minutes," the Atlanta coach said. "Our guys stepped up and made the plays they had to make."