Hawks survive against short-handed Pacers

Nearly giving this one away late, the Hawks (33-34) survived a close call vs. the Pacers (23-46), winning 131-128 on Sunday at State Farm Arena.

Next up, on the second half of a back-to-back, the Hawks will host the Trail Blazers on Monday night.

Below are some takeaways from the win:

1. John Collins missed this game with a right ring finger sprain and a right foot strain. He missed seven games for the right foot strain from Feb. 13 to March 3. Collins has not fully looked like himself since returning March 4, telling The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on March 7 that he was playing through pain. The Pacers, meanwhile, had numerous players out, many of whom are central figures on the team, including Malcolm Brogdon (concussion), T.J. McConnell (right wrist ligament surgery), Ricky Rubio (left knee ACL tear), Myles Turner (left foot stress reaction) and T.J. Warren (left navicular fracture).

2. Trae Young dominated early, setting a career high for points in a half with 33 in the first half. He finished with 47 points (13-20 FG, 7-for-10 from 3-point range, 14-14 FT), five assists and three rebounds overall, with four turnovers and two steals. He finished as a plus-2, though, with the Pacers winning the fourth quarter, 36-26. They dialed in on limiting Young in the second half.

“I think we got kind of caught up in whenever they went box-and-1. I think we were pretty smooth, even in the second unit, because they weren’t doing that, and I think we were able to score, but whenever I came back in, they went back to the box-and-1, or not necessarily box-and-1 but face-guarding,” Young said of what changed in the second half, referring to a defense when four players play zone and one is solely focused on an opposing player who is excelling. “And just not letting me catch it, and whenever I did, double-teaming me … Everybody just didn’t know what to do whenever we got into that position.”

3. The Hawks far exceeded the Pacers, who were playing on the second half of a back-to-back with eight players available, in talent and depth, but they still had trouble putting this game away. The offense was electric with a season-high 77 points by halftime, but as the game wore on, the Hawks’ defense didn’t limit the Pacers enough to truly put a comeback out of reach.

Coming out strong in the third quarter, aiming to slow down Young, the Pacers whittled the Hawks’ 18-point lead at halftime to seven, 89-82, at the 5:14 mark. In the fourth quarter, it got down to two, 125-123, with 1:09 left after two free throws from Duane Washington Jr. (22 points). Tyrese Haliburton (25 points, 10 assists) and Buddy Hield (25 points, five assists, four rebounds) led Indiana in scoring.

“The second half, we just didn’t control the ball,” Hawks coach Nate McMillan said of the defense. “When you don’t control the ball and it gets into your paint, it forces your defense to collapse. Now you’re in scramble mode, and they do a really good job of attacking your rotations, and they were able to get into the paint, kick out and knock down some 3s in that second half. It starts with you controlling that ball and keeping the ball in front of you.”

4. A wide-open dunk by De’Andre Hunter (15 points, two assists) put the Hawks up by four with 4.1 seconds left, and although Young then committed an ill-advised foul, Hield made 1 of 2 free throws, and the Hawks were able to escape in the final seconds. A win is a win, but it’s not a great sign for their defense that such a depleted Pacers team shot 51.7% from the field (42.9% from 3-point range), put up 128 points and gave the Hawks a run for their money (grabbing 15 offensive rebounds to the Hawks’ nine).

“I thought we started relaxed and allowed their trap to become a stop sign,” McMillan said. “We just were trying to get the ball to Trae and play off of that, but it’s just simple space the floor. You’ve got two on the ball, you move the ball and you look to attack, be aggressive.”

5. Entering Sunday’s contest, Tankathon rated the Hawks’ remaining schedule as the second easiest in the NBA. Monday, the Hawks will play the struggling Trail Blazers (26-40), who had lost six straight before beating the Wizards on Saturday, with a chance to finally get back to .500 for the first time since Dec. 15. Granted, they had the chance to do so March 7 in Detroit against a rebuilding Pistons team and lost in overtime. The Hawks have 15 games left in the regular season.

Stat of the game: 77 (the number of points the Hawks scored in the first half, a season high for either half, which helped them to a win despite losing the second half 69-54)

Star of the game: Young (had a game-high 47 points, including a career-high 33 in the first half)

Quotable: “We’re going to have to put these last two games behind us and come out with that focus we had from the beginning, and get to that level of play once again.” (McMillan on the Hawks’ opportunity to get back to .500 again)

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