Al Horford had 26 points and 16 rebounds as the Atlanta Hawks turned things around dramatically in their playoff series against Indiana, blowing out the Pacers 90-69 in Game 3 Saturday night.
Playing with much more urgency than they did in two double-digit losses at Indianapolis, the Hawks raced to a 54-30 halftime lead and narrowed the best-of-seven series to 2-1. Game 4 is Monday night in Atlanta, where the Hawks have won 12 straight over the Pacers dating to 2006.
The Hawks changed up their lineup — inserting 7-footer Johan Petro at center and bringing 3-point specialist Kyle Korver off the bench — after getting manhandled on the road. With more favorable matchups and a lot more energy, Atlanta suddenly made a series of it.
Indiana, which looked so dominant on its home court, was a totally different team after heading south. David West led the Pacers with 18 points. Paul George, who averaged 25 points in the first two games, was held to 16 on 4-of-11 shooting.
The Pacers connected on a dismal 27 percent (22 of 81) from the field.
Josh Smith added 14 points for the Hawks, and Jeff Teague had 13.
Atlanta coach Larry Drew started the little-used Petro at center in hopes of cutting into the Pacers' size advantage, a move that had a ripple effect on Horford and Smith, providing more favorable defensive matchups all along the front line. But, after getting manhandled in the first two games at Indianapolis, this wasn't really about a great strategic move.
Petro played only 14 minutes. Korver, who started the first two games, still got the bulk of the playing time with 29 minutes. Instead, this was more about the Hawks coming out with a lot more passion, the very things Drew had been preaching since the start of the series.
After falling behind 8-1 in the opening minutes and calling a quick timeout, Atlanta dominated the rest of the opening half with a display that had the crowd on its feet time and time again, while the Pacers stood around in a state of shock.
As good as the Pacers were in the first two games, averaging 110 points and a 16-point margin of victory, they were that bad in Game 3. They made four of their first six shots — then missed 30 of their next 36 before halftime, many of them the forced, ugly efforts of a team that turned increasingly desperate as the Hawks seemed to get to every loose ball just a little quicker.
Roy Hibbert missed all four of his shots in the first half. The backcourt duo of George Hill and Lance Stephenson each went 1 of 6. The Atlanta defense, which was largely nonexistent in the first two games, contested every shot this time. Not only did Petro bring a more physical presence, Ivan Johnson came off the bench to provide plenty of bruising, quality minutes — not to mention some fierce staredowns when Indiana did manage a rare basket.
With Petro at center, Horford shifted to power forward and Smith moved over to small forward, a lineup that helped shut down the Pacers.
As the Hawks pulled away, things got a bit chippy in the second quarter. The 6-foot-10 Horford led a lumbering fast break and was tripped by West coming through the lane. Horford went down hard, and Teague came up from behind to give West a shove. The Hawks had no intention of getting pushed around again.
There was a bit more shoving and jawing before the teams were separated, but nothing serious. After reviewing the video, the officials stuck with their original call — a flagrant foul on West, a technical on Teague.
For the most part, the game lived up to the nickname the Hawks' PR department has tried to push on the team for years. This was, indeed, the Highlight Factory — most notably late in the first half, when Devin Harris took off on a fast break, glanced over his left shoulder and spotted Smith sprinting up from behind. Harris delivered a perfect behind-the-back pass, and Smith unleashed a thunderous left-handed slam that would've scored a perfect "10" in a dunk contest.
The Pacers, in fact, spent most of the night in a defensive fog. Stephenson fouled Harris on a desperation 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down, and the Atlanta player knocked down all three free throws. Then, after the Pacers made a couple of free throws with 6 seconds left in the half, Harris let the inbounds pass roll nearly to midcourt to save time, then scooped it up and took off for an uncontested layup that sent the Hawks to the locker room with their 24-point lead.
Notes: The Pacers' last win in Atlanta was a regular-season triumph Dec. 22, 2006. ... The Hawks missed six of their first 10 free throws, extending the troubles they had in the first two games. But they bounced back to make 14 of their last 18. ... Petro finished with six points and four rebounds.
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963