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Published September 13, 2015
Josh Smith threw up one last errant shot, the horn sounded and the Atlanta Hawks straggled off the court to a very uncertain future.
George Hill and David West each scored 21 points and the Indiana Pacers withstood a furious comeback in the fourth quarter, beating the Hawks 81-73 on Friday night to close out the opening-round playoff series four games to two.
After snapping a 13-game losing streak in Atlanta dating to December 2006, Indiana headed off to New York to take on the Knicks in the conference semifinals.
For the Hawks, it figures to be a tumultuous summer.
The Hawks have only three players who are definitely under contract for next season — Al Horford is the lone starter in the group — and it seems likely this will be a much different team next season. Plus, they very well could have a new coach. Larry Drew was in the final year of his contract, and general manager Danny Ferry figures to want his own man in the post as he heads to his second season.
"There's going to be some changes," Horford said. "Everybody knows that."
Longtime stalwart Josh Smith, an Atlanta native who has played for the team ever since he was drafted out of high school eight seasons ago, is among those heading into free agency.
"There's plenty of time to think about what the future presents," Smith said. "I'm not really concerned about that right now."
While clearly seeming to sense his three-year run in Atlanta is over, Drew said he was proud of a team that many felt would have trouble making the playoffs after trading away All-Star Joe Johnson and bringing in a bunch of guys in the final year of their contracts.
Even the coach knew he was a lame duck, having the option on his contact picked up last summer but not getting an extension.
"I'm really, really proud of my group," said Drew, who has led the Hawks to three straight playoff appearances but was eliminated in the first round the last two years. "When you've got 11 or 12 guys on one-year deals, and the coach is in his last year, it could've gone either way. But we hung in there and stuck with it."
The Pacers open their series against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Sunday, an itinerary the Pacers prepared for by packing for a possible six days on the road.
New York finished off the Celtics 88-80 shortly after the horn sounded at Philips Arena. The Pacers were certainly glad they didn't have to return to Indianapolis for a decisive game against the Hawks.
"It's nice to be able to get it done here," said Roy Hibbert, who led a dominating Pacers performance on the boards. "We showed a lot of resolve when the other team made their run."
The home team had won every game until the Hawks returned to Atlanta and set a franchise playoff record with just nine points in the second quarter on 1-of-15 shooting. The defense broke down in the third, allowing Hill and West to combine for 22 points, and the Pacers built a 65-50 lead going to the fourth.
To their credit, the Hawks showed plenty of heart, slicing Indiana's lead to 76-73 on Horford's dunk with 2:13 remaining.
But the comeback fizzled.
Smith put up the final shot, a 20-foot jumper. It missed. How fitting on a night when the Hawks made only 26 of 78 (33 percent).
Horford led with 15 points, while Smith and Devin Harris finished with 14.
Indiana bullied the Hawks much of the game, overcoming their own poor shooting (32 of 76) by bullying Atlanta in the lane. The Pacers finished with a staggering 53-35 lead on the boards.
Hibbert added 17 points and 11 rebounds. Lance Stephenson also had 11 rebounds.
Over the final two games of the series, the Pacers absolutely manhandled the Hawks on the glass, piling up a 104-63 rebounding edge.
"I'm very proud of our guys to come in here, a tough place to win," coach Frank Vogel said. "A particularly tough place for us to win. It's good to end that streak. But more importantly, it's good to advance and show the type of toughness you need to make a deep playoff run. To win with defense and rebounding, that's been our identity all year, and that was the key to the last two victories."
The Hawks went through an absolutely brutal stretch from early in the second quarter to nearly midway through the third, in which they did not actually put the ball in the hoop.
In the equivalent of more than a quarter — 15:43 to be exact — Atlanta went 1 of 21 from the field, the only basket awarded to Harris on a goaltending call against Hibbert.
At a time when the Hawks needed one of their best performances of the season, they produced one of their worst.
"I wouldn't have believed it," Smith said. "We just couldn't get it going offensively."
The Hawks were downright abysmal in the second quarter. They showed little energy. They put up some truly awful shots. They missed even when they got a decent look.
Kyle Korver made the Hawks' only basket of the period on a jumper with 10:35 left. After that, they missed their last 13 shots before heading to the locker room to a round of boos from the home crowd.
If not for Indiana having their own offensive issues — the Pacers made only 36.6 percent (15 of 41) — the game would've been a blowout. As it was, the Hawks trailed just 37-29.
Perhaps the most telling sequence for both teams came late in the second. Jeff Teague fumbled away the ball out near the top of the key without being challenged. Indiana's D.J. Augustin took off the other way on an apparent layup, but only to throw up a wild shot that struck the bottom of the backboard. The Hawks followed up with such a pathetic offensive set that 7-footer Johan Petro wound up shooting a 3-pointer just ahead of the shot clocked.
It clanked off the rim.
So did just about everything else the Hawks put up in the first half and well into the third.
When Atlanta finally showed some life offensively, it couldn't stop the Pacers at the other end. The Hawks continually got lost on switches, at one point leaving Hill totally alone on a 3-pointer. He knocked down the shot and Harris looked around, his arms in the air wondering what was happening to his team.
The Hawks did show some resilience in their final quarter of the season.
But they expended so much energy wiping out a deficit that had been as high as 19 points, there was nothing left at the end.
Horford's rim-hanging dunk was their final basket.
Notes: Atlanta G Teague has an awful finish to the series, going 3 of 16 in Game 5, and 3 of 12 in the deciding contest. ... Hibbert had his first double-double of the series. ... The Hawks finally shot well from the free-throw line (18 of 20) after struggling much of the series. Unfortunately, they couldn't score consistently from anywhere else. ... Hawks F Ivan Johnson was whistled for a technical for the second game in a row. Indiana's Jeff Pendergraph also picked up a T.
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