Despite loss, Hawks return home with advantage

The ball is in the Hawks’ court — literally.

The Hawks host the Pacers in Game 3 on Thursday with their Eastern Conference playoff series tied 1-1. The Hawks won Game 1 convincingly and took home-court advantage. The Pacers won Game 2 in a rout and stole back the momentum. The series hangs in the balance for each team. Just win at home, and the Hawks can close out the Pacers.

“Our emotion is in a good place,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said Wednesday. “We’ve got a challenge going into Game 3. We are going to have to step up physically; we’ll have to be mentally tough, all those things. … Our group has been very resilient and very tough-minded all year. We’ve felt good about our group all year, and we don’t feel any differently now.”

The Hawks led by as many as 11 points and held a four-point halftime lead Tuesday. Then the bottom fell out on their chance to put the conference’s top-seeded team in a precarious position. The Pacers outscored the Hawks 31-13 in a decisive third quarter. The four-point advantage turned into a 14-point deficit. The Pacers’ lead would get as big as 27 points in the fourth quarter of the rout. Any momentum the Hawks had screeched to a halt.

“We weren’t the aggressive team,” DeMarre Carroll said following the loss. “They came out aggressive. Then, we started missing shots. Once we started missing shots, our defense didn’t pick up. Usually when we miss shots, our defense picks up and it evens out. We started missing shots and our defense didn’t pick up, and that was that.”

The Hawks shot a dreadful 5-of-20 in the decisive third quarter, including 1-of-8 from 3-point range. Still, Budenholzer and players cited the team’s defensive effort as the major issue.

The Hawks have had success against the Pacers at Philips Arena. The Pacers won on the Hawks’ home court Feb. 4 to snap a 12-game regular-season losing streak in Atlanta. The Hawks also won their first two home games in last season’s playoff series with the Pacers before losing the series-deciding Game 6.

There was no practice held Wednesday, only a video session to go over the defensive breakdowns. Budenholzer, a proponent of such sessions, said it’s an invaluable tool.

“When you watch film, sometimes you do learn things that both coaches and players didn’t know (even at this stage of the season),” Budenholzer said. “Sometimes film can dispel some of the emotion of the game. What you thought happened either didn’t happen or didn’t happen to the degree that you thought it happened. Film is great in lots of different ways in showing that there are things that we all learn.

“There are so many reads and reactions that go on during a game to think that any of us see or know everything is just not possible.”

Video can also serve as a reminder — not just of technical issues but of the big picture. The Hawks split the season series with the Pacers 2-2. They won the final regular-season meeting and the playoff series opener in Indianapolis in impressive fashion. They, indeed, hold home-court advantage despite Tuesday’s lopsided loss.

“Coming off the loss, we feel good about being at home,” Budenholzer said. “We feel good about the energy in the building with our fans. More important than anything, we know what it takes to win a game and all the defensive activity and the competitiveness, all those things. Sometimes, you are just reminded of how important those things are coming off a loss. We are looking forward to the challenge.”

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