Just a quick glance to the recaps of each game in the series and it really looks like the Hawks firmly have the Pacers back peddling as Game 5 rolls around with the series even at 2-2.
The Pacers won Games 1 and 2 in a convincing fashion, winning the two games by 17 and 15 points. But the Hawks fired back with a 21 point beatdown in Game 3 that included an 18-0 run to put the game seemingly out of reach for the Pacers before halftime even rolled around.
The Hawks uncorked another run of similar magnitude in Game 4 on Monday night, steamrolling past the Pacers 22-3 over the end of the first quarter and into the second quarter to take a 17 point lead at half. But in the end, the Hawks won by a deceiving 11 points, 102-91, with the Pacers cutting the lead all the way down to five with just under two minutes remaining.
Things got that way because as well as the Hawks played in the first half, and in the second quarter particularly, they were just as bad in the third quarter. After outscoring the Pacers 35-19 in the second quarter, the Hawks could only muster 12 points in the third quarter.
They were held to just 3-of-21 shooting from the field in the third quarter. Josh Smith, who finished the game with 29 points, was 0-for-5 from the floor in the third. He still sliced his way to the line, but missed to capitalize on the opportunities going just 6-of-12 from the free throw line. With Devin Harris sitting because at the start of the third because of dehydration issues and Al Horford heading to the bench because of foul troubles, the Hawks looked ugly for much of the quarter. Their ability to pass the ball was non-existent and they looked like a completely different team from the one that had dominated in the second quarter.
"It was all on the Hawks," coach Larry Drew said. "No adjustment on the Pacers," referring to the Hawks third quarter troubles. Although the Pacers didn't exactly take Horford out of the game (he still finished with 18 points), the Pacers were able to pound it inside during the third quarter with Horford out of commission courtesy of fouls. They outscored the Hawks in the paint to the tune of 18-4. The defensive adjustments, whether or not Drew wanted to admit were there, frustrated the Hawks visibly, especially Smith.
Coach Drew insists it wasn't so much the Pacers success as it was the Hawks panics. "We got very stagnant in the third quarter. Offensively, we just weren't very good. We became our worst enemy, just off the mere fact we didn't execute well in the third quarter." With Harris and Horford on the bench, the Hawks were rather lost. Their half-court sets were minimal at best and generally consisted of Smith dribbling up court and driving into the lane. But all of the open threes the team was hitting in the second quarter were no longer there in the third. Not from lack of trying, but more a lack of vision.
The Pacers nearly were able to capitalize and made the game a lot closer than it should have been in the first place. Drew commended the effort his players had in responding to the third quarter by the Pacers, but also said he didn't think his team played with the aggression they showed in Game 3. That might be slightly problematic, because the game is being played in Indianapolis and the Hawks haven't won there in four tries.
The Pacers also came in with a clear game plan, which they executed to a certain degree rather well. Ignoring their own second quarter debacle (which is a bit of a large albatross to ignore), the Pacers adjusted to Horford's Game 3 explosion to the tune of 42 points in the paint. Smith did a fantastic job guarding Paul George in the first half, but George scored 18 of his 21 points in the second half, 14 of those in the fourth quarter.
Game 4 was a big win for obvious reasons for Atlanta. Instead of going with the series on the line, they get to take the fight back to Atlanta for Game 6 no matter what the result on Game 5. But they might have preferred a different second half on Monday night. Rather than coasting to the finish line, they had a slight limp as they jogged the final straightaway. If the Hawks play the game they played tonight, without the support of a home crowd, it might be chalked up as a loss. So although Atlanta has the two-game win streak on their hands, this series can still go either way on Wednesday.