This was not a playoff rematch.
Not by a longshot.
The Hawks hosted the shadow-of-their-former-selves Pacers Saturday night in the season home opener and came away with a 102-92 victory.
The Hawks’ opening-night festivities included the unveiling of a 3-D projection system, new hi-definition scoreboard screens and sound system. Recording artist T.I. Harris performed. President Jimmy Carter was one of the announced 19,118 in attendance.
The Hawks took the energy in Philips Arena and ran with it. The Hawks trailed as they took advantage of a Pacers team that was missing three starters due to injury. Include Lance Stephenson’s free-agent departure and Indiana had just four-fifths of the playoff lineup from just five months ago. Last May, the top-seeded Pacers survived a first-round Eastern Conference playoff series with the Hawks in seven games. This was clearly not the same team.
“Nobody is feeling sorry for us,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said before the game. “We are approaching everything like we have to play winning basketball and go win games.”
The Hawks led by as many as 17 points. The Pacers cut the lead to six points five times and then made it a three-point game, 95-92, when Donald Sloan made three free throws with 1:13 left. Point guard Jeff Teague answered with a basket on the ensuing possession and the Pacers’ comeback was over.
The Hawks (1-1) were led by Teague with a game-high 25 points, six assists and three steals. He scored six straight points in the final two minutes.
“I was just trying to make plays and win the ball game,” Teague said. “I wanted to do whatever I could for our team.”
Al Horford added 20 points on 9 of 14 shooting. Paul Millsap (13) and DeMarre Carroll (11) rounded out the double-digit scorers. Carroll led the Hawks with nine rebounds.
All 10 Hawks players who entered the game scored at least three points.
“I just wanted to bring a lot of energy,” Horford said. “I think the defense was leading to a lot of my offense, our team defense in general. Like I said, this is going to be a process but I felt much more comfortable today.”
The Pacers (1-2) were led by Chris Copeland with 21 points, including six 3-pointers, off the bench. Roy Hibbert, the lone returning starter, added 14 points and 11 rebounds.
The Hawks took the 17-point lead in the first half. They led 40-23 midway through the second quarter when Mike Scott drained a 3-pointer.
“Our bench came in and really gave us some separation in that second quarter,” coach Mike Budenholzer said. “It was good to see that unit play well.”
The Hawks built the big lead with a stellar finish to the first quarter. The Pacers scored just 11 points over the final 7:08 and that included a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Solomon Hill to end the period. The Pacers went 6:48 in between field goals.
The Pacers closed the half strong with a 12-3 run and cut their deficit to just seven points, 51-44, at the intermission.
The Hawks were much better on the boards, an issue that cost them in a season-opening loss to the Raptors. They allowed the Pacers 11 offensive rebounds.
“Coach Bud got on me,” Carroll said of his team-high rebound total. “He got on all the guards about our rebounding. I told him I was trying to be nice to the big men. He said ‘No, you just need to get the rebound.’ I said ‘OK.’ I had to go tell all my big men I have to get back to eight or nine rebounds and there you go.”
The Hawks next travel to the Spurs on Wednesday.
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