John Bazemore, Associated Press
ATLANTA — The Indiana Pacers looked so good in the first two games of the playoffs.
They couldn't have looked much worse Saturday night.
The Atlanta Hawks raced to a 24-point lead by halftime and blew out the cold-shooting Pacers 90-69 in Game 3, narrowing Indiana's lead in the series to 2-1. Al Horford had 26 points and 16 rebounds to lead the home team.
Suddenly, it's a series.
Game 4 is Monday night in Atlanta, where the Hawks have won 12 straight over the Pacers dating to 2006.
"It was just one of those nights," Pacers star Paul George said. "Everything we did was uncharacteristic."
The Pacers manhandled the Hawks in two double-digit wins at Indianapolis, but the roles switched after the series headed south.
"We wanted to show them we're here to play," Atlanta guard Jeff Teague said. "We were not going to back down to them."
This one was over by halftime, the Hawks racing to a 54-30 lead that set a franchise record for fewest points allowed in the first half of a playoff game, and matching Indiana's worst effort in a postseason opening half.
The Hawks changed up their lineup — inserting 7-footer Johan Petro at center and bringing 3-point specialist Kyle Korver off the bench — after getting bounced around on the road. With more favorable matchups and a lot more energy, Atlanta suddenly looked like a team that can challenge the Pacers.
"We were ready to go," coach Larry Drew said. "Before the game, I went in the locker room to give my speech and it was quiet in there. That told me they were focused."
David West led the Pacers with 18 points. George, who averaged 25 points in the first two games, was held to 16 on 4-of-11 shooting.
Indiana connected on a dismal 27 percent (22 of 81) from the field. Taking Smith and George out of the mix, they were 11 of 56.
"We're a very young team," coach Frank Vogel said. "There's going to be some growing pains. We're going to feel this, experience this, and get better from it."
Josh Smith added 14 points for the Hawks, and Teague had 13. But that's only part of the story. Smith was able to take George out of his comfort zone, while Teague put the clamps on George Hill, who had surprisingly averaged 20 points in the first two games. The Pacers guard was held to three on 1-of-8 shooting.
"They came out with a lot of energy, put us on our heels early, and the rest is history," Hill said. "We turned the ball over a lot and we weren't getting to the places that we want to get to on offensive end."
Drew started the little-used Petro at center in hopes of cutting into the Pacers' size advantage, a move that had a ripple effect on Horford and Smith, providing more favorable defensive matchups all along the front line. Horford was able to shift to power forward, while Smith moved over to small forward.
But, after getting manhandled in the first two games at Indianapolis, the Hawks' turnaround wasn't really propelled by a great strategic move.
Petro played only 14 minutes. Korver, who started the first two games, still got the bulk of the playing time with 29 minutes. Instead, this was more about the Hawks coming out with a lot more passion, the very things Drew had been preaching since the start of the series.
"We were ready," Smith said.
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