Pacers 'Respond the Right Way' In Game 4

by Wheat_Hotchkiss | @Wheat_Hotchkiss

April 26, 2014

ATLANTA – The Pacers had plenty of chances to fold on Saturday afternoon in Game 4 against the Hawks. Plenty of moments where they could have packed it in, headed back to Indiana in a 3-1 hole and a whole lot of trouble.

They could have thrown in the towel at halftime after seeing a seven-point lead turn into a six-point deficit after a poor second quarter.

They could have turned in a few minutes later, when DeMarre Carroll’s 3-pointer stretched Atlanta’s lead to double digits early in the third quarter and drew loud cheers from what was a surprisingly boisterous Philips Arena crowd.

They could have slumped their heads and decided it just wasn’t their night after the Hawks hit a steady barrage of threes in the first half of the fourth quarter.

But that didn’t happen Saturday. Instead, the Pacers played with a renewed sense of urgency – urgency that had been absent in losses in Games 1 and 3.

“We saw our season flash before our eyes,” guard C.J. Watson said after the victory.

Added forward David West: “It was all-or-nothing for us.”

After dropping Game 3, the Pacers talked at length at Friday’s practice about how they had lacked the necessary energy and passion needed to win on the road in the playoffs. The team changed more than just its uniform color for Game 4; they came in with a different mindset.

In the locker room after the game, the victorious Pacers credited their change in mentality to an atypical fiery speech from head coach Frank Vogel in Friday’s film session.

“He was pretty hot yesterday morning in the video session, and disappointed with our body language and our attitude and the way we were playing,” said West, who finished with 18 points. “We needed it. I’m just glad we responded the right way.”

Their execution on Saturday wasn’t perfect, but there was no questioning Indiana’s effort and intensity, especially down the stretch.

“We just fought,” West said. “The guys that were out there – they were just scrappy. I thought we took the fight to them for the last four to six minutes of the game. And it paid off for us.”

Indeed, the Pacers held the Hawks without a field goal for the final 4:37. They outscored Atlanta 13-5 over that stretch, making a number of big plays on the offensive end.

The offense that had been stagnant and sputtering for much of the series came to life in the second half, as the team collectively began to attack the basket and find the open man.

“That’s a paint swarm team,” George Hill said in the postgame locker room. “…Coach (Vogel) just said (to) be ready for jump shots if (the passes) come out, and if that’s what they’re going to give us, we have to take those shots with confidence.”

In the final minutes, Hill, Luis Scola, Paul George, and David West all hit open jumpers off of passes from Scola, George, West, and Hill.

The last of those shots – a 3-pointer from West to give Indiana a four-point lead with 1:33 to play – was an unexpected contribution from a man not known for taking shots beyond the arc.

Just minutes earlier, West had missed two free throws that would have tied the game. But instead of slumping his shoulders, West – the unquestioned leader of the Pacers’ locker room – went to work to atone for his misses.

After Hawks point guard Jeff Teague stepped out of bounds on the ensuing possession, West found George in the corner for the go-ahead 3-pointer. West then came up with a steal on the other end, and when Hill kicked the ball out to him on the left wing, he didn’t hesitate to hoist it up.

“I was disappointed that I missed those two free throws,” West said. “…I just was reading George. I said if George drives that gap, I’m going to step into this thing and shoot it like I shoot ‘em.”

The Pacers’ aggressive mentality was on display throughout the second half, whether it was Paul George, who scored 18 of his team-high 24 points after halftime, Watson, or Hill.

After hitting just 1-of-11 shots on Thursday night in Game 3, Hill found his stroke when the Pacers needed it, scoring 12 second-half points while going a perfect 4-for-4 from the field. And while his two 3-pointers were big, it was Hill’s decision to pass up a three that may have sealed the victory.

After Paul George corralled the rebound off of Lance Stephenson’s miss with just over a minute to play and the Pacers narrowly nursing a one-point lead, George kicked the ball to Hill at the top of the arc. Hill appeared ready to loft up a shot, but at the last second put the ball on the floor and drove to the lane, maneuvering around two Hawks defenders for a layup.

”I was going to take that three, especially after I had hit two so far,” Hill said of the play. “But at the same time, I’d seen the paint wide open, I’d seen Jeff (Teague) really closing out strong, coming at a fast pace. So I just thought about giving him a shot fake, trying to get in the paint. At first I was looking for another guy to get a three, but I’d seen the rim open up.”

The Pacers still had their share of miscues down the stretch. West fouled Kyle Korver on a 3-pointer the possession after hitting his three. Paul George missed two free throws with 7.5 seconds left to give the Hawks another chance to win the game.

But Indiana made enough plays with the right amount of effort and aggression to come away with a needed win.

Take the final possession, when Hill and Scola swarmed Korver, refusing to let the NBA’s leader in 3-point shooting percentage this season touch the ball, which forced Pero Antic to heave a desperation shot from well beyond the arc.

Or go back to the third quarter to George’s hustle to block Mike Scott from behind on what should have been a breakaway dunk. That was one of 11 blocks Saturday by the Blue-and-Gold, a sign of a team that wasn’t going to die easy.

This Pacers team has been maligned and scrutinized locally and nationally for much of the past two months. Their performance down the stretch in Game 4 won’t quiet all of that criticism, especially considering that they followed up on a strong second half in Game 2 with a lackluster effort in Game 3.

But Saturday’s win certainly is a positive sign for Pacers fans, who saw their team rediscover its passion.

Even Roy Hibbert, who watched the fourth quarter from the bench, was engaged and energetic. Hibbert was the first guy off the bench to celebrate with West after his late 3-pointer and spoke in the locker room with pride about his teammates’ performance (“I believed in each one of those guys on offense and defense, and they pulled through.”).

As the Pacers have stumbled in recent weeks, the team's struggles had clearly worn on them, but they still had confidence. They just needed to dig deep to find it.

“You hate losing,” Hill said after Game 4. “Especially when you really think that you’re the better team and should win this series.”

The series is back in the Pacers’ control as the scene shifts to Game 5 Monday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Think you’re the better team? Now is the time to prove it.

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