For the Atlanta Hawks, there’s no place like home.
Returning to Philips Arena after dropping the first two games of their NBA first round playoff series in Indianapolis, the Hawks were clearly at ease on their own home court, totaling dominating the Indiana Pacers, 90-69, to gain their first win of the best-of-seven matchup on Saturday.
Indiana now leads the Eastern Conference series 2-1 after defeating Atlanta in Game 1 on April 21, 107-90, and in Game 2 on April 24, 113-98.
At home, the Hawks held Indiana to 23.8 percent shooting from the field in the first half and a mere 27.2 percent by game’s end. And while the Pacers were struggling offensively with Atlanta’s defense, the Hawks were using a balanced, fast-break pace to defeat their opponents.
“Anytime we come home you can feel the energy,” said Atlanta coach Larry Drew. “I really think in my heart that coming home was a tremendous boost. With two losses in Indiana, and coming home, I really felt we would respond.”
The Hawks opened with a 12-1 run in the first quarter to take a 27-14 lead by the end of the period. During the span, Atlanta outscored the Pacers on both points in the paint (16-8) and fast-break points (8-3).
Atlanta continued its dominance in the second quarter by extending its lead to 33-14 by the 10:30 mark. On the other end, Indiana could only manage four points in the first six minutes of the period.
The Hawks’ defensive effort was lead by Josh Smith, who held Indiana forward Paul George at bay. George, who had a triple-double in Game 1, followed by 27 points in Game 2, was held to 16 points as Smith’s defensive assignment on Saturday.
“I just tried to keep a body on him,” Smith said. “I just tried to stay engaged. That was pretty much the game plan.”
“It was the defense that really got us going tonight.” Drew added. “It all started with Josh Smith. I thought his effort on Paul George really set the tone for the game.
“The other guy I thought did a phenomenal job defensively was Jeff Teague…I thought he did a really good job defending George Hill.
Hill, who had 18 and 22 points respectively in the first two games of the series, finished Game 3 with three points.
After going up 6-1 early in the first quarter, and an Atlanta 20 second timeout to regroup, the Pacers would go on to hit only 6-of-36 the rest of the first half. Indiana missed 14 of their last 16 shots to close the first quarter.
With Smith and Teague handling matters on the defensive end, teammate Al Horford was leading the Hawks’ offensive charge. Horford scored 12 of his game-high 26 points in the first half to go along with a game-high 16 rebounds. Smith and Teague finished with 14 and 13 points respectively.
Horford and Smith controlled the middle, helping the Hawks to a significant 50-30 margin on points scored in the lane.
“With our matchups with both Josh and Al, we were able to post up more. We had an advantage about going into the post,” continued Drew.
Atlanta led by as much as 28 points with 24.7 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
And the basketball wasn’t the only thing being defended at home.
With Atlanta taking its biggest lead in the first half – 25 points – with 2:05 left in the second, tempers began to flare between the two squads. While the Hawks were building on their lead, the Pacers were showing signs of frustration.
With the score at 38-17 in favor of the Hawks at 6:55 in left in the half, and just after Horford had maneuvered inside for a slam dunk, the 6-10 center was leading yet another Atlanta fast break and was roughed up on a flagrant foul by Indiana forward David West. When officials stepped in to intervene, Teague was subsequently called for the technical.
“Definitely,” responded Teague when asked was it worth getting a technical foul during the court unrest. “I just wanted him [Horford] to know I had his back.”