Hawks close on playoffs with impressive win (updated)

The Hawks made a major move to secure a playoff spot Sunday. They did so with one of their most impressive performances of the season.

The Hawks blew out the Pacers 107-88, leading by as many as 35 points, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The victory, coupled with a Knicks loss earlier in the day, reduced the Hawks magic number to three to clinch a postseason berth.

The Hawks (34-42) have won two straight and three of the past four games. They are now two games ahead of the Knicks for the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race. The Knicks (33-45) lost to the Heat, 102-91, Sunday afternoon to fall three games behind the Hawks in the loss column. The Hawks have six games remaining while the Knicks have just four games left, all against teams that have secured a playoff spot in the East.

“This is a big win for us,” Jeff Teague said. “We are getting better as the season is unwinding. That’s good, going into the playoffs with a little momentum.”

The Hawks snapped a two-game losing streak to the reeling Pacers and tied the season series, 2-2.

Teague led the Hawks with a game-high 25 points, including the team’s final 12 points. Pero Antic had a career-high 18 points and Paul Millsap (17), Shelvin Mack (13) and Kyle Korver (11) all finished in double figures. Millsap had a double-double with 11 rebounds.

“Ever since last game, we’ve been moving the ball,” DeMarre Carroll said. “We realize that if we move the ball no team can guard us. I think everybody is being unselfish moving the ball and we are helping each other on defense. We were struggling a little bit but now we are back to playing Hawks basketball and this is the best time to start playing Hawks basketball.”

The Pacers (53-25) have lost two straight and five of their past six. They now trail the Heat by a game for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

Paul George led the Pacers with 18 points, 12 in the second half. Center Roy Hibbert was benched and did not play in the second half for the suddenly slipping team. He was held without a point or a rebound in nine minutes.

The Hawks started fast and didn’t let up in the first half. They led 12-1 before the Pacers made their first field goal after an 0-for-7 start. They led 17-3 with 6:05 remaining in the first quarter when Pacers coach Frank Vogel benched his entire starting lineup. By the end of the first period, the Hawks led 33-11, a 22-point cushion as they shot 66.7 percent (14 of 21) from the field. The Pacers shot just 21 percent (4 of 19).

It got worse.

The Hawks led 47-15 after a 14-4 to start the second quarter. They would keep the 32-point advantage at the end of the half, 55-23. The Hawks had as many 3-point field goals as the Pacers had total field goals (seven).

“I think that was one of our better efforts,” coach Mike Budenholzer said. “It started with our defense. In both the first and second quarters we were able to sustain our defense and it really fueled our offense, our activity and our competitiveness and playing together.

The 23 first-half points allowed represented two franchise marks. It was the lowest point total allowed in a half in Atlanta history. It was also the lowest scored in Pacers history. The Hawks previous low for points allowed in a half this season was 33. The Pacers had just one assist in the first half.

The Pacers outscored the Hawks 36-24 in the third quarter, putting up 13 more points in 12 minutes as they did in the first 24. The Pacers got as close as 16 points after trailing by 35 early in the period. The Hawks pushed their lead back to 25 points with six minutes remaining in the game.

“We know where we are (in the standings),” Antic said. “Every game is important for us. If (we are playing) the first or the last in the conference, we just try to win as much as possible. We came out and we competed hard. We shared the ball. That was the most important thing. When we share the ball I think we can play with anybody.”

Millsap left early in the third quarter with a right thumb contusion after being fouled by David West. He returned midway through the period after having his thumb wrapped. Following the game he said his thumb was sore but didn’t expect to miss any time.

The Hawks next host the Pistons Tuesday in a makeup of the game postponed Jan. 29 by the ice storm.