This one was over early. Or was it?
The Pacers were missing four starters. The Hawks were playing to clinch a postseason berth. All signs pointed to a blowout. That is exactly what happened, at least for much of the game, but it certainly didn’t go the way most would expect.
It was the Pacers that led by as many as 28 points late in the third quarter. However, they had to hold on for dear life as a group of Hawks reserves nearly erased the entire deficit. In the end, it was a 100-94 Pacers victory Monday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
The Hawks (39-32) could have clinched a playoff berth, the team’s sixth straight, with a victory and a 76ers loss at the Jazz later Monday night. The loss dropped the Hawks into a tie with the Bulls, who own the tiebreaker, for sixth in the Eastern Conference.
The Hawks started the fourth quarter with an unlikely lineup of Shelvin Mack, Ivan Johnson, DeShawn Stevenson, John Jenkins and Mike Scott, the latter three having not played a minute until that point. The group, down by 22 points, responded with a 14-2 run to start the final period, cutting the Hawks deficit to 10 points with 7:03 remaining.
The continued effort brought the Hawks within four points, 94-90, with 1:07 remaining as they forced 10 turnovers in the quarter. However, after the Hawks finally gained control of the ball after a scramble, Jenkins had the ball stolen from behind while starting a fast break. Gerald Green nailed a 3-pointer for a 97-90 lead with 34.4 seconds left that put an end to the rally.
“I think with the guys going in, after sitting down the whole time, the thought was to bring energy,” Jenkins said. “It wasn’t too hard to know we had to go out there and fight to the very end. Unfortunately we came up short but we had a good run at it.”
The Hawks outscored the Pacers 31-15 in the final barrage. Mack had eight of his 10 points in the fourth while Stevenson, Johnson and Jenkins each had six and Scott had five.
Josh Smith had 20 points for the Hawks, 17 in the first half.
The Pacers (44-27), who salvaged a 2-2 season-series split with Atlanta, won for the fourth time in five games. Green had 19 points to lead six Pacers’ double-figure scorers.
The Pacers took a 58-43 lead into halftime after opening up a 20-point advantage in the second quarter. They went on a 25-9 run to start the period, including an 11-0 run.
Reserves Jeff Pendergraph and Orlando Johnson combined for 23 of the Pacers’ 32 second-quarter points. The Pacers’ bench scored 31 first-half points.
The Pacers then pushed the lead to what appeared to be an insurmountable margin in the third.
“The most disappointing thing was in the third quarter, when we just lost our composure, particularly with the officiating,” coach Larry Drew said. “We didn’t handle in the right way and we lost our composure. The way we responded took us out of our game.
“It’s something that cannot happen. It’s something that we’ve talked about. We have to have a road mentality of just playing.”
Stevenson was clearly frustrated by his role with the Hawks following the game.
“I was just hooping,” Stevenson said of the late rally. “I felt like the guys out there had something to prove. We went out there and proved it. It is what it is.
“I didn’t know what was going on. I never do. I just went out there and gave it my all. That’s what I do.”
The Hawks continue a four-game road trip, with a 1-1 mark, at the Raptors Wednesday.