Offensively, the ball whipped around. Indiana seemed set on posting David West and Roy Hibbert despite the latter's recent woes, and the familiar perimeter starters were neither taking early attempts nor wasting their dribbles. Paul George, Lance Stephenson and George Hill were definitive.
Defensively, most of the Hawks' shots were contested. Even Hibbert, for as bad of a matchup the floor-stretching Hawks are for him, was getting a hand up on perimeter shots and working to recover after the fact. On pick-and-rolls, he wasn't being picked on, either. The Pacers, led by a determined George, were getting deflections and putting enough pressure on the ball to get Atlanta out of rhythm.
But after all that, the Pacers went into a timeout with just a 68-65 lead and 3:30 to play in the third quarter. Head coach Frank Vogel substituted C.J. Watson and Ian Mahinmi and kept starters George, Hill and West on the court. That's when the dam burst, leading to a 101-85 Pacers win.
Indiana finished the quarter on an 11-0 run after the timeout, and behind a smaller lineup finally broke the Hawks' offense. It was so hectic that even somewhat open looks by Atlanta felt rushed as the Pacers ran at the shooters. The Hawks missed their final six shot attempts, and by the end of the period had gone 5-for-20 from the floor. The bench trio of Lou Williams, Shelvin Mack and Mike Scott went 0-for-7 combined.
Offensively, the Pacers went 12-for-16 on field goals and had eight assists. Indiana took 18 spot-up attempts for the game, scoring at a blistering 1.4 points per possession, according to Synergy Sports, but the third quarter was different. In the final three-plus minutes, West bullied his way inside and then twice found Hill cutting to the hoop for two of the point guard's five baskets in the quarter, all of which were in the paint.
George capped the third dishing to Luis Scola and then pulling up for a straight-away three-point atop the key to give Indiana a 79-65 lead heading to the fourth quarter.
The outcome of the game was set.
The groundbreaking third quarter and resulting Game 2 victory may have taken a stale taste out of the Pacers' mouths, but it didn't exactly shuck the questions for Vogel. First and foremost, the positive signs -- Hill's aggressiveness offensively and George's defensively -- didn't change the obvious assertion that Hibbert might be better in a reduced role against the Hawks, who employ a floor-spacing frontcourt of Paul Millsap and Pero Antic.
The sudden defensive uptick late in the third coincided with Mahinmi replacing Hibbert, and the backup big man certainly impacted the game. He allowed the Pacers to completely switch on screen-and-roll action, once forcing a badly missed floater on Mack. Mahinmi also swatted a Williams drive on the Hawks' final possession of the quarter, which forced the transition opportunity that led to George's buzzer-beating shot.
The Pacers regained momentum by finding another gear on defense and finally going into their offensive sets with sharing as the focus but aggressiveness the key.
Maybe they did so with a few new faces, but things are looking better for Indiana than they did before Game 2.