It wasn't easy, but the Indiana Pacers finally earned a road win against the Atlanta Hawks.
And it just happened to come in the series' clincher.
After dropping 13 straight games in Georgia's capital, including the first two of this quarterfinal series, the Pacers put on a defensive clinic early and held off the Hawks down the stretch to secure their second straight berth in the Eastern Conference semifinals with an 81-73 victory Friday at Philips Arena.
George Hill and David West each poured in 21 points, with Roy Hibbert donating a 17-point, 11-rebound double-double for the Pacers, who will visit New York in the second round after the Knicks finished off the Boston Celtics later on Friday. Game 1 of the conference semifinals will be Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden.
Al Horford led five Atlanta players in double figures with 15 points, while Josh Smith and Devin Harris each added 14 points for the Hawks, who shot just 33.3 percent from the field and went a woeful 3-for-19 from 3-point range.
"The first two games here, Game 3 and 4, we just didn't bring the focus. . ... I thought tonight we had the intent of coming out and guarding them, keeping them between us and the basket," West said.
Atlanta trailed by just one, 23-22, early in the second after Kyle Korver knocked down a jumper, but the Hawks went the next 12-plus minutes without a field goal to dig themselves into a double-digit hole.
A pair of free throws from Korver moved his team within two late in the second before the Pacers pulled away with a 13-2 surge spanning the second and third quarters.
Hill's 3-pointer just over 1 1/2 minutes into the third capped the outburst to give Indiana a 13-point cushion before Harris' driving layup less than a minute later ended Atlanta's field goal drought to make it a 44-33 contest.
Indiana responded with eight straight points to push the margin to 19 before taking a 65-50 advantage into the final frame.
The Pacers' lead was 17, 69-52, early in the fourth before Atlanta's offense came to life with a 17-4 spurt that found the Hawks within four with 3:43 to play.
Horford started the run with a jumper and added a one-handed slam late before capping the surge with 1-of-2 from the free throw line to make it 73-69.
Another Horford dunk with 2:41 left brought the Hawks within three, but Atlanta failed to find the bottom of the net the rest of the way, as the Pacers ratcheted up defensively down the stretch.
A shot clock violation against Indiana gave Atlanta the ball with 47.9 seconds left facing a five-point deficit, but West blocked Smith's 3-point try from the top of the key.
After Lance Stephenson split a pair from the line at the other end, Korver let fly a triple from the left wing that Paul George got a piece before West and Hibbert each went 1-of-2 from the charity stripe down the stretch to seal the outcome.
"For whatever reason we just weren't making the right reads tonight, and I think that kind of carried over throughout the game," Horford said.
The Pacers lost to the Miami Heat in six games during the Eastern Conference semifinals last season ... Indiana's last win in Atlanta came on Dec. 22, 2006 ... The last time the two teams faced each other in the playoffs was in 1996, and the Pacers won that series 3-2 ... Atlanta shot 6.7 percent in the second quarter and scored a franchise-playoff low nine points in the frame ... Indiana outrebounded Atlanta, 53-35 ... Korver finished with 12 points, but went 0-for-7 from 3-point range.