Hawks guard Jeff Teague drives to the basket against Pacers forward David West during Tuesday’s game. After scoring a playoff career-high 28 points in Game 1, Teague was held to 14 points in Atlanta’s Game 2 loss. (Reuters)
ATLANTA — The Indiana Pacers spent the first half of Tuesday’s Game 2 looking like they would fall into an 0-2 hole in the best-of-seven series against the Atlanta Hawks before making a statement after the break.
The Pacers will try to carry that momentum on the road when they visit the Hawks for Game 3 tonight. Atlanta, which controlled the second half of Game 1 to pick up a stunning win in the opener, failed to put together the same closing kick in Game 2.
The Pacers looked a lot like the team that piled up the best record in the NBA over the first four months of the regular season after the break in Game 2, outscoring the Hawks 31-13 in the third quarter and keeping the pressure up defensively to put themselves in good transition situations.
Paul George went 5-of-7 from 3-point range and finished with 27 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and four steals. George provided some dramatic 3-pointers down the stretch, including one to close the third quarter that made it a 79-65 lead and another that pushed the advantage to 27 points midway through the fourth quarter.
Atlanta’s Jeff Teague scored a playoff career-high 28 points in Game 1 but was held to 14 in Game 2 as George took over the defensive assignment and kept Teague out of the lane.
Atlanta missed 12 straight shots during the decisive stretch and shot 29 percent in the second half.
“I think there were some opportunities and shots that have been part of our system all year, and we want our guys to shoot and confident, and it’s a big part of the game,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “We make a few of those shots, maybe the third quarter feels a bit differently.”
Indiana limped through the final month of the regular and appeared to carry that form over into the playoffs while putting up little fight in Game 1.
That changed in the second half of Game 2, when the Pacers, who led the league in scoring defense for most of the season, held the Hawks without a point over a stretch of 6:30 bridging the third and fourth quarters and put the game away.
“I thought our energy was great,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “Our willingness to share the basketball was great. Our willingness to run was great. Just the scrambling mentality on the defensive end I thought was the biggest factor.”
On Wednesday, reports surfaced that even if the Pacers find a way to oust the Hawks and advance to the second round, Vogel’s job with the Pacers isn’t secure.
Vogel, despite a 56-win season that secured the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, is “coaching for his job,” ESPN reported.
The Pacers got off to a 40-11 start to the season but then went just 16-15 the rest of the way before a loss in the series opener to the eighth-seeded Hawks.
The decision on whether to retain Vogel at season’s end will rest with Pacers president Larry Bird.
Bird made in-season moves to acquire forward Evan Turner from Philadelphia and add center Andrew Bynum for bench depth on top of last summer’s additions of forward Luis Scola and point guard C.J. Watson, The moves were made to get the Pacers closer to return to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2000, when Bird was the coach.
There are reports of fighting among teammates.
Turner and guard Lance Stephenson got into a practice-floor fight on the eve of Game 1 against Atlanta. Sources told ESPN it wasn’t the first time in recent weeks that Stephenson has clashed with a teammate.
ESPN also reported that Stephenson and guard George Hill had to be separated on the bench during a 26-point home loss to San Antonio on March 31.
Questions about Vogel’s job security began in March after Bird told The Indianapolis Star that he has been disappointed at times this season.