For six games, the Atlanta Hawks have bucked the odds and hung with the top-seeded Indiana Pacers in their opening round playoff series. With a late lead and time winding down in Game 6, the Hawks appeared to be on their way to the next round. However, a Pacers rally forced a seventh game, as the team won 95-88 on Thursday night.
Atlanta held onto a five-point lead with only three minutes left in the contest and while that lead wasn’t insurmountable, at home, they were in the driver’s seat. Jeff Teague led all scorers with 29 points and his jump shot that put the Hawks up 84-79 meant the upset watch was on.
Unfortunately for the home team, Indiana wasn’t fazed.
The Pacers stormed back with a mix of timely offense (including a 16-4 run to end the game) and stifling defense. More than perhaps anything else, the key for Indiana was their work at the free throw line. Since the five-point deficit, the Pacers made eight consecutive shots from the charity stripe, willing their way to victory.
Really, the Pacers shot well from the line during the entire game. Overall, the team made 23 of their 27 free throws and connected on their last 17 in a row to close out the game. Indiana did a lot of things right in the second half, but shooting that well down the stretch was what ultimately meant the series would continue on for another game.
Just as Indiana made key shots, Atlanta found a way to lose. More specifically, the team’s offense dried up at an inopportune time. The Hawks final possessions after that key five-point lead went like this:
1-2 at the free throw line
Made free throw
All told, Atlanta went 1-6 from the field with two turnovers. For a team that had showed so much poise playing on the road in this series, the Hawks’ collapse was at least a little surprising. While the Pacers were busy hitting their free throws, Atlanta simply couldn’t buy a bucket.
With the loss, the Hawks now face several issues. First, they’re playing against a far more experienced team in the Pacers. The series also now shifts back to Indy and if Atlanta wants to advance to the second round, they’ll need to do it on the road. While the Hawks have won two out of three games in the series there so far, winning three might simply be too much to ask of them.
Maybe more importantly, this was the type of game that can wake up a dormant team. Indiana shouldn’t have needed to be pushed to the brink so far, but now that they have, they’ve got all the momentum. On the road and facing a veteran team makes this a very difficult matchup for Atlanta.
Game 7 is on Saturday.