After falling behind 8-1 in the opening minutes and calling a quick timeout, Atlanta dominated the rest of the opening half with a display that had the crowd on its feet time and time again, while the Pacers stood around in a state of shock, looking nothing like the team that averaged 110 points and a 16-point margin of victory on its home court. They made four of their first six shots — then missed 30 of their next 36 before halftime, many of them the forced, ugly efforts of a team that turned increasingly desperate as the Hawks seemed to get to every loose ball just a little quicker.
Roy Hibbert missed all four of his shots in the first half. The backcourt duo of Hill and Lance Stephenson each went 1 of 6. The Atlanta defense, which was largely nonexistent in the first two games, contested every shot this time. Not only did Petro bring a more physical presence, Ivan Johnson came off the bench to provide plenty of bruising, quality minutes — not to mention some fierce staredowns when Indiana did manage a rare basket.
But nothing was more telling that when the 6-foot-10 Horford led a lumbering fast break in the second quarter, West sent him tumbling to the court with a hard foul, and Teague came to his teammate's defense. After a bit more shoving and jawing, the teams were separated. The officials reviewed the video and stuck with their original call — a flagrant foul on West, a technical on Teague.
"I don't think it was a dirty play. It was a hard foul. It's playoff basketball," Horford said.
Still, he was impressed by Teague's reaction.
"I was very surprised," Horford said. "I was like, 'Was that you?' I was happy. I was proud. He had my back out there."
For the most part, the game lived up to the nickname the Hawks' PR department has tried to push on the team for years. This was, indeed, the Highlight Factory — most notably late in the first half, when Devin Harris took off on a fast break, glanced over his left shoulder and spotted Smith sprinting up from behind. Harris delivered a perfect behind-the-back pass, and Smith unleashed a thunderous left-handed slam that would've scored a perfect "10" in a dunk contest.
The Pacers, in fact, spent most of the night in a defensive fog. Stephenson fouled Harris on a desperation 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down, and the Atlanta player knocked down all three free throws. Then, after the Pacers made a couple of free throws with 6 seconds left in the half, Harris let the inbounds pass roll nearly to midcourt to save time, then scooped it up and took off for an uncontested layup that sent the Hawks to the locker room with their 24-point lead.
Notes: The Pacers' last win in Atlanta was a regular-season triumph Dec. 22, 2006. ... The Hawks missed six of their first 10 free throws, extending the troubles they had in the first two games. But they bounced back to make 14 of their last 18. ... Petro finished with six points and four rebounds.
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963
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