The four-game series between the Atlanta Hawks and the Indiana Pacers has been as disjointed and schizophrenic as any in the 2013 NBA playoffs. There has been one constant, though: the dominance of the home team.
In Monday night’s 102-91 victory it was the Hawks’ turn to get the home-court boost and they took advantage, riding the tidal wave of emotion from the Philips Arena crowd to a series-tying ‘W.’ After losing two games in Indiana in unimpressive fashion, the Hawks have tied the series 2-2.
“We’re definitely feeding off the crowd,” said Hawks coach Larry Drew. “That’s why home court is so important. It’s a great feeling when the crowd is behind you and into it. In the fourth [quarter] the crowd was really into it and our guys fed off it.”
The crowd may truly have swung the game on a few occasions.
Before the start of the game, Philips Arena was around half full and by tip-off, the arena was still filled with open seats. The lack of fan support seemed to take the air out of the Hawks. They let the Pacers jump out to a 21-14 lead in the opening period before closing the gap and eventually taking the lead into the second, 22-21.
By the second quarter the full 18,241 had taken their seats and the Hawks kicked it into gear. Josh Smith, who got the start at small forward on the evening, seemed particularly motivated by the energy, leading the team with 10 points in the quarter on 4-6 shooting, and pulling in five of his 11 rebounds for the evening.
The Hawks cruised through the second stanza with 35 big points, almost double the Pacers output. Smith and the hot-shooting Kyle Korver scored as many points (19) as the entire Pacers team that period to take a 57-40 lead at halftime. Korver was red hot from beyond the arc and finished with 19 points and was 5-8 from three-point range for the game.
The third quarter again showed the impact of the fans, but on the other end. As the crowd slowly crept back into their seats, the Hawks quickly lost a grip on the lead.
A “hot seat” fan promotion inside Philips typified the Hawks’ troubles. One fan was set to win $250 if a Hawk scored a three pointer within two minutes, starting at 7:13 in the quarter. Not only did the Hawks not hit a three-pointer, the team didn’t even score a field goal until the 1:34 mark of the third.
Atlanta went 3-20 shooting in the quarter, 0-8 from beyond the arc and 8-16 on free throws. It was painful to watch.
“We were very, very stagnant in the third quarter,” said Drew. “Didn’t execute our offense and we became our worst enemy. I was happy to see that my guys maintained their composure, but it was nothing they were doing, it was all us.”
The Pacers used the Hawks abysmal quarter to get right back into the game, wining the quarter 22-12 and knocking what had been a 17 point halftime lead down to a manageable 69-62.
While the run allowed the Pacers to get back into the ballgame, it proved not to be enough.
“The third [quarter] really should’ve been a 30-35 point quarter for us,” said Pacers forward David West. “We gave them too many opportunities so we were fighting uphill, spending a lot of energy trying to get back in the game.”
That uphill battle in the fourth quarter on Atlanta’s home court proved to be too much for the Pacers. West and company were stymied by an impressive defensive run led by Smith, forward Al Horford and Korver, who picked up his first block of the postseason, and the team was able to turn offense into defense.
After letting Indiana get within 5, at 92-87, the Hawks got a 19-foot jump shot from Horford and a breakaway dunk on a fast break from Smith to put the game out of reach with 1:07 remaining.
After the thunderous jam that forced Pacers coach Frank Vogel to take a timeout, the College Park native remained on the court and urged the Atlanta faithful to get on their feet. They obliged him.
“I don’t think they realize what they do for us,” Horford said of the crowd. “Josh played big minutes for us and I can tell you that he was tired, but when the fans are supporting us it makes it easier for us to go through it. The home fans have been a big part of [the past two games].”
Smith had a career high with 29 points and added 4 assists and 3 steals to go along with his 11 rebounds.
The series continues with Game 5 Wednesday in Indiana. Game 6 will be back in Atlanta Friday.