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Defense is the key to Hawks win over NBA's best Pacers

With Al Horford gone for the year, the Atlanta Hawks need to find a new way to win. On Wednesday night at Philips Arena their defense stifled the NBA’s best team, the Indiana Pacers, and won 97-87.

Photos from the Atlanta Hawks win over the Indiana Pacers 97-87
Photography by Andrew Snook

Atlanta has had it tough recently. Since losing Horford before Christmas the Hawks have gone 2-4 and have only been able to squeak out those two wins. It hasn’t been easy adapting to life with their dominant player but there are signs and more importantly the team are starting to believe they’ve made the adjustment and are improving on their new way to play with every game.

Without Horford on the offensive side Atlanta has had to step up its defense and on Wednesday night they did just that. The Hawks held the Indiana Pacers to just 40 percent shooting from the field while shooting 45 percent themselves.

What was more important was the timing of their defensive push. In the first quarter they held the Pacers to 24 percent from the field while shooting more than 52 percent themselves. This huge disparity allowed the Hawks to run out to a 13-point lead after the first.

While the Pacers improved in the second quarter the Hawks extended their lead to 17 points at the half.

While the defense was stifling the offense was also firing well, particularly from outside. As a team the Hawks shot 46 percent from three-point range. Pacers Head Coach Frank Vogel “…the way Mike (Budenholzer) is using his personnel and…how they’re using their three-point shooting bigs. The Spread-five is what we call it. It’s the three-point shooting five-man, and the three-point shooting four-man. When you’ve got both bigs on the court as three-point shooters, it makes it a challenge.”

A large part of Atlanta’s success was Pero Antic, on both ends of the floor. He tied his career best with 16 points including 3 of 6 from 3-point distance. He also added four rebounds a block and an assist.

Coach Mike Budenholzer said of Antic’s efforts, “He played great tonight. He stretched the floor. He shot the basketball and then he competed on the defensive end. He made it tough for Hibbert, and that’s what we needed.”

Late in the third quarter the Pacers began to fight back but by then the Hawks had run up a 25-point lead. The closest Indiana got was 9 points but it wasn’t enough and the Pacers poor history at Philips Arena continued. They have not won at the Highlight Factory since 2006.

Leading all scorers was Paul George who netted 28 points for Indiana in the losing effort. This was the fourth game in five nights for Indiana and they were tired but Atlanta played very well and deserved the win behind their great defense.

Budenholzer summed it up, “I thought the competitive spirit from the beginning was excellent. It showed on the defensive end. It was one of our best defensive games. In particular the first half, the activity and energy were very high…I think the defense fueled the offense.”

Up next for the Hawks is a home match-up against the Houston Rockets while the Pacers head home to take on Washington.