A heaping helping of cognitive dissonance after the Atlanta Hawks lost Game 7 to the Indiana Pacers 92-80 here Saturday.
On the one hand, this rebuilding team — a team playing without its best player to boot — did well to push the East’s No. 1 seed to brink. But the Pacers have seemed for two months a team capable of being shoved over the brink. The eighth-seeded Hawks had a chance to go up 3-1 but wasted a late lead in Game 4. They had a chance to end the series but wasted a late lead in Game 6.
Both of those games were at Philips Arena. When you get that close on your home floor, you have to win, if for no other reason than to keep yourself from having to play Game 7 on the road. In the history of the Hawks’ franchise, they’d never won a Game 7 on the road. Still haven’t.
The Hawks had the Pacers reeling after the astonishing Game 5 here — the Hawks scored 41 second-quarter points and led by 30 in a game most figured the No. 1 seed would take — but let them wriggle away. A longer series was always going to favor the more talented team. It took Indiana coach Frank Vogel a while, but he finally fashioned a small lineup capable of chasing and actually challenging the Hawks’ shooters, and his insistence on starting the befuddled center Roy Hibbert bore fruit Saturday.
Hibbert, who hadn’t scored since Game 4, managed 13 points, seven rebounds and five blocks in Game 7. For the first time in the series, strength down low trumped long-distance shooting. The Hawks tried 44 treys, missing 33. Over the final two games, they made 20 of 79 3-point shots. We’ll never know if the misses were a function of bad shooting or fatigue from banging against a bigger and stronger opponent over seven games and 15 days, but the basketball axiom — tired legs make for missed shots — fairly resonated.
With Hibbert again a presence underneath, the Pacers were able to play their normal offensive game, and the Hawks aren’t good enough to guard the Pacers when floor balance is achieved. Paul George exploited Kyle Korver — and others, but mostly Korver — for 30 points. Hibbert’s rediscovered touch enabled him to occupy Paul Millsap, and Millsap had a great game rebounding (17) but a poor one shooting (6-for-21). Jeff Teague appeared to tire the most, missing 11 of 16 shots and leaving driving shots in the lane short.
For the Hawks, it was a lousy ending for what had been a rousing series. They gave themselves a real shot at a historic upset but tripped at the end. Even as we await the time when Al Horford gets healthy and Danny Ferry and Mike Budenholzer have their system fully in place, we lament this wasted opportunity. The Hawks did well, but in the end they didn’t do well enough.
From myajc, our premium site: The Hawks had a great chance and blew it.