ATLANTA (AP) – David West led Indiana on a 16-4 run to end the game, extending the season for the top-seeded Pacers with a 95-88 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Thursday night.
Trailing 3-2 after losing at home for the second time in the best-of-seven series, Indiana was poised for an early summer when the Hawks pushed out to an 84-79 lead with just over 3 minutes remaining, cheered on by a raucous crowd.
But, for the fourth time in this back-and-forth affair, the road team won.
West seemed to make every big play down the stretch, scoring four straight points and forcing a huge turnover to begin the turnaround. West hit two more baskets in the final minute to wrap things up, finishing with 24 points.
Game 7 is Saturday in Indianapolis.
Paul George also scored 24 points for the Pacers, making four straight free throws to help fend off a team that was trying to become only the sixth No. 8 seed to knock off a No. 1 seed.
The Pacers went with a smaller-than-usual lineup much of the game, trying to match up better with Atlanta spreading the court and shooting a bunch of 3-pointers. Roy Hibbert remained the starting center, but played only about 12 minutes for the second game in a row. Ian Mahinmi played nearly twice as long, giving Indiana a more mobile presence in the lane, while C.J. Watson and Chris Copeland also got extensive playing time.
It worked. Atlanta made only 9-of-35 from beyond the arc.
“I told the guys, `If worse comes to worse, we’ve got to play park basketball,” West said.
Atlanta, playing perhaps its biggest home playoff game since the 1980s, looked as if it was on the verge of a huge celebration when the defense sagged and Jeff Teague knocked down a jumper, pushing the home team to an five-point lead with 3:16 to go.
But the Pacers showed some of the resolve they’ve been accused of lacking, led by West. After swishing a pair of free throws, he hustled back to swat the ball away from Atlanta’s Pero Antic. Making sure Indiana took advantage of the turnover, West scored again on a jumper from the top of the key.
Paul Millsap missed at the other end, and George Hill burst into the lane to drop one in. Just like that, the Pacers were back up 85-84 with 1:58 remaining.
Antic tied it for the final time, 85-all, on a free throw with 1:24 remaining. But that was it for the Hawks.
West hit another jumper to put the Pacers ahead for good. Then, coming off a timeout, Lou Williams drove under the basket and tried to throw an outlet pass to Teague for a 3-pointer, but the ball went right to George. He was immediately fouled, made both free throws, and Teague missed again for the Hawks after a brilliant night to seal it for the Pacers.
Teague scored 29 points but it wasn’t enough.
Indiana seemed to be methodically seizing control in the third quarter, methodically pushing out to a nine-point lead. But Mike Scott sparked the Hawks with a thunderous dunk off a no-look pass from Teague. The crowd was on its feet the rest of the period, and the Hawks closed the period on a 19-7 run.
Teague scored six points in the final 53 seconds, including a pair of spectacular drives that sent Philips Arena into a frenzy. He scooted past C.J. Watson with a dazzling crossover dribble, then dropped in a runner just ahead of the buzzer to send the Hawks to a final quarter with a 67-64 lead.
Teague bowed out his chest and let out a scream, while the Pacers straggled to the bench, knowing a season that showed such promise most of the year was in danger of being over far earlier than anyone envisioned.
Things got a little ugly near the end of the first half. Scott doled out an elbow to Hill, and the Pacers guard responded with a shove. The refs jumped in quickly and no punches were thrown. After initially calling a foul on Hill, the officials got together and changed it to Scott. The crowd booed lustily, but it appeared to be the correct call.