INDIANAPOLIS — The playoff-hopeful Atlanta Hawks discovered a near-perfect half at just the right time Sunday night.
The Hawks held the Central Division champion Indiana Pacers to a franchise-low 23 points in the first half and danced into their locker room with a stunning 32-point lead.
While a sellout crowd at Bankers Life Fieldhouse serenaded the home team with boos and Pacers center Roy Hibbert became familiar with the team bench, the Hawks had the beginnings of a joyous night.
When the Hawks finished off a 107-88 victory over the Pacers, they were one game closer to clinching the eighth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Atlanta (34-42) is two games up on the New York Knicks, who lost Sunday to the defending champion Miami Heat.
But, oh, what a first half.
Not only did the Hawks shut down the Pacers to put themselves in Indiana’s record book, the 23 points were also the fewest first-half points allowed in Hawks history.
Not one Indiana player had more than one basket.
“That’s one of our best halves of the season, for sure,” said guard Kyle Korver, who had five assists and was one of four Atlanta starters to reach double figures in scoring with 11 points. “Coming out here on the road against a really good team. To play like that, that’s a big boost for us.”
“I think that was one of our better efforts,” Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer said. “It started with our defense. In the first and second quarters we were able to sustain our defense and that really fueled our offense.”
Forward Paul Millsap scored 11 of his 17 points in the first half. The Hawks outrebounded the Pacers 23-19 in the first half and forced nine turnovers.
Among the Pacers turnovers was an attempted pass by Hibbert to forward Paul George. The ball instead soared out of bounds and George voiced his displeasure across the court to his teammate.
Hibbert was benched, playing less than 10 minutes, and did not score a point or grab a rebound for the first time since a December 2012 game.
Atlanta guard Jeff Teague led all scorers with 25 points, scoring 19 in the second half to back up the Hawks’ great start. He hit 9 of 17 shots, including two 3-pointers, and hit all five of his free throws.
“We are getting better as the season is winding down and that’s what I’m excited about,” Teague said.
Hawks center Pero Antic added 18 points and six rebounds. Millsap led a 40-rebound attack with 11 boards.
Atlanta guard Shelvin Mack came off the bench to score 13, and starting guard Kyle Korver scored 11.
George scored 10 of his team-high 18 points in the second half and insisted that the Pacers were not a devastated team. Indiana has lost seven of its last nine games and dropped two home games in the past week by a combined 45 points.
“It just takes a game or two to get back in a groove for the playoffs,” George said. “This is a great team. We have a great starting five.”
Sunday, the starting five of George, Hibbert, forward David West, and guards George Hill and Lance Stephenson combined for 3-of-23 shooting in the first half.
“That is not acceptable for any of us and we’re going to go back to work and fix it,” Indiana coach Frank Vogel said.
West finished with 13 points and Hill had 12.
The Pacers (53-25) trails Miami by one game in the race for the No. 1 playoff seed in the Eastern Conference, and they play at Miami on Friday.
Atlanta dominated the game from the start. The Hawks scored the game’s first nine points and led 17-3 before the first quarter was half over. They led 33-11 at the end of the opening quarter.
NOTES: The Pacers’ 23 first-half points continued a difficulty they have had against the Hawks. Atlanta’s previous best first-half defensive total this year: 32 against the Pacers in a Jan. 8 win. … Hawks G Jeff Teague, an Indianapolis native, started his team-high 73rd game of the season. His 6.9 assists per game ranked No. 8 in the NBA through Saturday, and he had 20 assists in his previous two games. … The Pacers’ road losing streak is six games, their longest skid on the road since 2011. Indiana plays Wednesday at Milwaukee and Friday at Miami. … Pacers G C.J. Watson missed his 13th consecutive game with a right hamstring strain. … Indiana F Solomon Hill was out due to a sore back.
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