ATLANTA -- Before Friday’s Game 6, most had heard about the Indiana Pacers’ 13-game streak of futility in Philips Arena. But the Pacers finally exorcised their demons in Atlanta by eliminating the Hawks with an 81-73 win. Now the Pacers move on to New York to face the Knicks on Sunday in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
As much as they wouldn’t acknowledge the streak before Game 6, the sense of relief was noticeable in the locker room after the game.
George Hill, the Indiana native who scored 21 points on 7-of-14 shooting, was exuberant.
“We finally got the monkey off our back in this building," Hill said. "It felt good tonight. We were more physical tonight and made them take shots around us. We capitalized on the offensive end and made some shots, trying to get to paint and playing inside out.”
The closeout win did not come easy for Indy. In spite of a first half where the Hawks shot a pedestrian 24 percent, including a 1-for-15 second quarter, Indiana ended the half with just an eight-point lead.
Josh Smith, playing perhaps his final game in an Atlanta uniform, credited the Hawks' defense for keeping them within striking distance.
“Whenever you’re unable to make baskets, you still have the ability to play on the defensive end,” Smith said. “We did a good job of that. We just couldn’t get it going offensively.”
In the third quarter, something clicked. The Pacers made shots to take their biggest lead of 19 points, and it appeared they would coast to a victory. But the Hawks put up a fight that got them within three with 2:55 left, which sent the home crowd into a frenzy. But the Pacers steadied themselves and held on.
“We just had to maintain and keep our composure," said Indiana's Paul George, who struggled to only four points. "They’re a good team, and we knew they were going to make a run; we just didn’t know how long that run would be. We made a couple of good stops in a row and made a couple of shots, and that helped stop it.”
Friday’s win was huge for a team that struggled this season on the road against playoff teams. But the Hawks didn’t present the challenge that the Knicks will. “We have to get over that mental hump in New York because we haven’t played the best ball there,” George said.
“It’ll be fun with two great teams battling for something as far as our goals,” said Hill. “It’s going to physical, and we have to put our hard hats on because we know they will. It won’t be easy, but we’re going to give it everything we have.”