ATLANTA — The top-seeded Indiana Pacers were on the ropes. Down five to the upstart Atlanta Hawks with three minutes to play, the Pacers’ late-season collapse looked complete.
Indiana forward David West would have none of it.
The Pacers fought off the Hawks and an electric crowd at Philips Arena to stay alive in the Eastern Conference playoffs with a 95-88 win Thursday in Game 6.
West scored 12 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter, and Indiana forward Paul George added 24 points and came up with a big steal in the game’s final minute to force Game 7.
The teams alternated wins through the first six games of the first-round series. Game 7 will be Saturday in Indianapolis.
“We’ve played all year for this, to get to Game 7s in our building,” West said. “The energy is going to be great. We just have to handle our business.”
The Pacers were 41-12 at the All-Star break, but they unraveled in the final months of the regular season and were in danger of becoming the sixth No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 8 seed in the first round of the playoffs.
Atlanta point guard Jeff Teague hit a jumper that put the Hawks up 84-79 with 3:13 to play, but West scored eight points in the final three minutes, and Indiana closed out the game with a 16-4 run.
“We’ve responded well all year when we’ve been in difficult situations,” Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer said. “Part of our response is going to have to be better execution. That’s the challenge for us going into Game 7 — to execute on both ends of the court and have the activity, the competitiveness, the togetherness that it’s going to take. That’s what playoff basketball is about.”
Indiana was in control in the third quarter and had quieted the crowd before a thunderous one-handed dunk by Atlanta forward Mike Scott electrified Philips Arena and completely changed the momentum. The Hawks closed the quarter on a 13-5 run and took a 67-64 lead into the fourth quarter. Teague scored the Hawks’ last six points of the quarter, including a dazzling spin move and layup that gave Atlanta its first lead since early in the second quarter.
“This was a gutsy win for our guys,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “I’m very proud of them. They overcame a few furious runs by the Hawks, especially late in the third quarter. Paul George was in foul trouble, and they just brought down the house with a few plays. Our guys could have wilted at that point, but they didn’t.”
In a back-and-forth first half, Indiana withstood an early surge by the Hawks before grabbing the lead in the second quarter. Pacers point guard George Hill hit a deep 3-pointer as time expired on the second quarter, sending Indiana to locker room up 44-39.
Indiana forward Lance Stephenson finished the night with 21 points, and Hill added 14 points.
Teague led all scorers with 29 points. Atlanta forward Paul Millsap scored 16 points and grabbed 18 rebounds, and guard Lou Williams added 16 points.
The Hawks set a franchise record by making 15 3-pointers in their win at Indiana on Monday, but made just nine of 35 attempts from beyond the arc in Game 6.
Atlanta won three of its last four games in Indiana, and the Hawks were up big in the third quarter of their Game 2 loss at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
“We’re a confident bunch,” Teague said. “We’ve won on that floor before, so we know we can do it. We just have to go out there and do what we do and play our style of basketball, and it will take care of itself.”
The winner of Saturday’s Game 7 will face the Washington Wizards in the second round.
NOTES: Indiana PG George Hill and Atlanta F Mike Scott got into a physical altercation late in the first half. Both received technical fouls. … Pacers coach Frank Vogel inserted reserve F Chris Copeland into the game in the first quarter. Copeland rewarded his coach with a 3-pointer that cut Atlanta’s lead to 22-20 at the end of the quarter, and he finished with five points in 18 minutes. … Indiana C Roy Hibbert, who has struggled throughout the season, picked up two fouls in the first seven minutes and did not play the rest of the first half. He finished with no points and two rebounds in 12 minutes. … Actor and hip-hop artist Ludacris was among an announced sellout crowd at Philips Arena. … A moment of silence was observed before the game to honor longtime NBA coach and analyst Jack Ramsay, who died Monday. … The Hawks are in the playoffs for the seventh consecutive season, the longest streak in the Eastern Conference. Their last playoff series win came in 2010-11.
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