INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana Pacers’ coach Frank Vogel’s message to his team for the second half of the season was simple — start fast.
The Pacers responded with 108-98 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
“The dog days of the NBA are gone,” Vogel said. “The grind from New Years to the All-Star break is always, to me, the biggest grind. Once the All-Star break passes, now it is about the home stretch.”
It did not take long to see that Indiana (41-12) heeded what their coach said when a 25-4 run during the middle of the first quarter put the Pacers on course to avoid back-to-back home losses for the first time this season.
“I thought we did a good job coming out and hitting first,” forward David West said. “We were able to build a pretty good lead. It was a good win for us.”
The run began when All-Star forward Paul George found guard Lance Stephenson open in the right corner for a 3-pointer with 8:57 to go in the first quarter for a 9-5 lead. Nearly 4 1/2 minutes later, the Pacers were up 31-9.
George finished with 26 points on 8 of 18 shooting from the field and forward David West had 17 points and six rebounds.
During the spurt, Indiana made 10 of 11 shots from the field, including 3 of 3 from beyond the 3-point arc. The Pacers finished the quarter shooting 66.7 percent from the floor (14-of-21) and led 35-23.
“We started the game fast and went up 22 (points) early,” Pacers forward Luis Scola said. “It’s hard to maintain that. They reacted, they came back, they have pride.”
The Hawks did not go away quietly. They charged back with a 14-4 run to close the first quarter, trimming their 22-point deficit to 12.
Atlanta then managed to get within three at 52-49 with 1:02 left in the second quarter when All-Star forward Paul Millsap passed to guard Kyle Korver on the left wing for a 3-pointer. Korver extended his streak of games with a 3-pointer to 121, longest in NBA history.
“Right now what we need to do is we need to play better in longer stretches,” Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer said. “Sometimes it’s how we start the game, it isn’t where we want to be and how we want to start. Other times, its different periods in the game, but I think our group battled despite the poor start.”
Indiana scored the final five points of the first half and led 57-49.
Indiana’s defensive pressure led to 22 Atlanta turnovers, which the Pacers were able to convert into 35 points. Seven of the Hawks turnovers and 14 of the Pacers turnover points came in the first quarter.
“We had a rough start,” Atlanta guard Shelvin Mack said. “We have to come out and be more professional. It’s kind of hard to win a game when you have 22 turnovers, especially against one of the best teams in the NBA.”
Mack and fellow guard Jeff Teague committed a team-high four turnovers apiece.
Millsap, the Hawks’ leading scorer this season at 17.6 points per game, made 3 of 10 shots from the field and finished with seven points, continuing his struggles against the Pacers. He was a combined 3 of 21 from the field in the teams’ first two meetings.
Korver led Atlanta with 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting from the field, including 5 of 7 from 3-point range. Guard Lou Williams came off the bench to score 18 points.
Atlanta (25-27) has lost a season-high six consecutive games. The skid began with an 89-85 home loss to the Pacers on Feb. 4.
“If you want to make it to the Finals and win a ring, you have to do it a lot of times,” Scola said of playing well consistently. “You have to do it every day. That’s what we are looking for, we’re looking for the consistency.”
NOTES: The Hawks dropped five straight heading into the All-Star break, scoring 85 points or fewer in four of the five games. … The Pacers and Hawks split their two previous meetings this season, both at Atlanta’s Phillips Arena. Pacers C Roy Hibbert scored a season-low two points in the Hawks’ 97-87 win Jan. 8. … The Hawks began the night ranked first in the NBA in assists with 25.6 per game. Indiana led the NBA in team defense, allowing 90.3 points per game. … F DeMarre Carroll was not in the Hawks’ starting lineup due to a left hamstring injury. F Cartier Martin made his third start of the season. … Pacers recalled G Orlando Johnson from Fort Wayne of the NBA Development League. … Including Tuesday’s game, the Hawks play four games in five days, and the Pacers have three games in five days.
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