How do you beat the hottest team in the NBA? The Indiana Pacers (18-12) found an unusual winning formula on Monday night in their 93-87 win over the Atlanta Hawks (20-13).
The Hawks entered Monday's contest having won six straight games, the longest active streak in the NBA, but Indiana snapped that streak thanks to Monta Ellis and an unexpected supporting cast. Ellis scored a season-high 26 points, while the motley crew of Ian Mahinmi (13 points and nine rebounds), Solomon Hill (10 points), and Chase Budinger (10 points) joined him in double figures in the victory.
All of those contributions were welcome for the Pacers, who were without second-leading scorer C.J. Miles (sore lower back) and didn't get much offensively from All-Star Paul George (just nine points on 3-of-14 shooting). That didn't matter, though, as other players picked up the slack.
"Everybody's willing to learn and ready to step up when their names called," said Hill, who has been out of the rotation for most of the season, but logged 26 minutes on Monday with Miles sidelined.
Atlanta continued its hot play in the early going. The Hawks used an 11-4 run midway through the first quarter to open up a 10-point lead with 3:29 remaining in the first quarter.
But the Pacers rallied, with Ellis leading the way. Ellis scored seven straight points for Indiana, then passed up a mid-range jumper to find George for an open 3-pointer that cut Indiana's deficit to four with 29.6 second left in the first quarter.
Indiana turned the tables in the second quarter, dominating the period on the defensive end. The Blue & Gold forced Atlanta into nine turnovers in the quarter, leading to 13 points on the other end. All told, Indiana outscored the Hawks 31-13 in the frame to take a 12-point lead into halftime.
Atlanta fought back in the third quarter, opening the half on a 15-4 run to climb within one and eventually tying the game on three separate occasions.
The Pacers, however, surged in front for good with 10-2 run over a 1:50 stretch late in the third quarter, during which Ellis scored five straight points.
Indiana maintained a multiple-possession lead for much of the fourth quarter, getting an unexpected offensive boost from reserve forwards Budinger and Hill, who scored 10 of Indiana's first 12 points in the final frame.
"It's kind of a luxury to have guys like that that can step up," Mahinmi said after the win. "So when guys go down like C.J., we can actually keep playing well."
The Hawks eventually cut their deficit to just three on a free throw by Paul Millsap with 1:06 to play, then got the ball again when Indiana knocked the ball out of bounds after Millsap missed his second foul shot. But George Hill forced the biggest turnover of the night, stripping Jeff Teague of the ball, allowing the capacity crowd to let out a collective sigh of relief.
They were able to celebrate a few seconds later, as Mahinmi tipped in Ellis' miss to effectively seal the win.
Ellis knocked down 10-of-20 shots on the night, including 4-of-9 from 3-point range. He has now topped 20 points in each of the last three contests.
"My body is coming around," Ellis said. "I've been dealing with a few injuries with my knee, (but) it's starting to feel better. Once my body feels good, I'm able to move like I want to and attack the basket like I should."
Millsap led Atlanta with 24 points and seven rebounds in the loss, while Teague added 18 points, five boards, and four assists.
The Pacers, who have now won two straight games after dropping three in a row just before Christmas, head to Chicago on Wednesday for a matchup with their Central Division rivals. They return to Indianapolis on New Year's Eve to host another divisional opponent, the Milwaukee Bucks.
Inside the Numbers
The Hawks were averaging 111.5 points over their six-game win streak coming into Monday night and had topped the century mark in all six contests while shooting 51.2 percent from the field. Indiana, however, held Atlanta to just 87 points and a .419 field goal percentage.
The Pacers forced 22 turnovers on the night and collected 16 steals, two shy of their season high. George Hill had four steals, while four players (Ellis, George, Budinger, and Solomon Hill) each tallied two takeaways.
Solomon Hill's 26 minutes were a season high. He played 21 minutes on Dec. 8 against the Warriors, but otherwise had amassed just 16 total minutes in the other 12 games in the month of December.
Given extended playing time, Hill scored in double figures for the first time all season. The last time Hill scored 10 or more points was back on April 5, when he tallied 19 points and six rebounds in a win over Miami in the final weeks of the 2014-15 season.
The Hawks' 13 points in the third quarter tied for the fewest by a Pacers opponent in that period this season. Indiana also held Toronto to 13 points in the second quarter in a win on Dec. 14.
The Pacers won despite amassing a season-low nine assists. 29 of their 38 field goals were unassisted on the evening.
You Can Quote Me On That
"He's getting the ball more and being more aggressive. I think he sees Paul (George) struggling and he's trying to pick up the load." -Vogel on Ellis' increased offensive production
"A lot of guys contributed to the win. It was one of those things, at the beginning of the game, my shot was going. We were able to get defensive stops as a team and get out and run." -Ellis
"Solo has been eager to play. He practices hard every day, he goes hard. He's one of those guys that has all-out energy. To see him rewarded like that tonight and see him make all the right plays, I'm so happy for him. But it doesn't surprise me." -Mahinmi on Solomon Hill
"We just have a great core of guys defensively who also like to get out on the break. Today we also got a lot of steals." -Hill
"Their defense was really good. We probably had some turnovers that were maybe uncharacteristic or out of the norm. I think at halftime we had about 13 turnovers for 20 points and we were down 12. Putting us in that spot just kind of put us in the hole all night." -Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer
"We knew that coming in, but they still gave us a chance at the end. You have to give them credit, they are a good defensive team who likes to get out in transition…I feel like we lost sight of what we do well." -Hawks forward Kent Bazemore
Stat of the Night
Mahinmi, Budinger, and Hill — averaging an aggregate of 14.6 points per game entering Monday's contest — combined for 33 against the Hawks on 15-of-24 shooting (62.5 percent).
- The Pacers defeated the Hawks on Monday for the first time since the 2013-14 playoffs. Indiana had dropped four straight regular season contests against Atlanta, including all three meetings with the Hawks last year.
- Indiana has now won 11 of its last 13 home games.
- The Pacers are now 8-3 when Mahinmi scores 10 or more points and 5-2 when Budinger finishes in double figures.
The Pacers head to Chicago on Wednesday, Dec. 30 to take on Jimmy Butler and the Bulls at 8:00 PM ET.