Going into the game, the Atlanta Hawks were a team on the verge of collapse from the top of the Eastern Conference standings after suffering three straight defeats and possibly a fourth with the arrival of the Indiana Pacers to town. The Pacers came into Atlanta with the best record in the NBA and had just won eight out of their last nine games, looking like one of the best teams in the league during this stretch. However, nobody told the Hawks how good the Pacers were because tonight Atlanta took it to Indiana on both sides of the ball.
Atlanta took control of the game from the start by giving it their all on defense and only allowed Indiana to score a dreadful 12 points in the first quarter. The 12 points the Hawks allowed were a season-low for points in a quarter by the Pacers and really helped set the pace for the rest of the game defensively. In the second quarter, the Hawks continued to hound the Pacers on the defensive side of the ball as the Hawks only allowed Indiana to score 20 points in this quarter for a whopping grand total of 32 points in the first half which — also the lowest point total for the Pacers going into halftime this season.
A major reason for the failure of the Pacers’ offense in the first half deals with the fact that one of their best players, Roy Hibbert, did not get himself established down low on both ends of the court. On defense, the Hawks used a combination of Pero Antic, Elton Brand and Paul Millsap in order to make the All-Star center a non-factor offensively as the combo only allowed him to score two points on 1-of-8 shooting from the field. Offensively, Atlanta forced Hibbert to play outside the paint by putting Antic in the starting lineup. Hibbert had to respect Antic’s ability to hit the three-ball which caused him to play in an uncomfortable position away from the basket. This in turn created more space and chances for the Hawks to be able to attack the rim on offense.
I give coach Mike Budenholzer and the players a lot of credit for winning a big game last night. I believed the absence of Al Horford would mean a big game for Hibbert down low. However, Budenholzer made a strength of the Pacers a weakness by putting players such as Antic and Mike Scott on the floor in order to exploit Hibbert’s inability to play outside of the paint when having to guard big guys who can shoot from the three-point line.