Indiana staved off elimination for the second time in three days. It’s the first time since mid-March the Pacers’ regular starters have won back-to-back games.
Instead of becoming the sixth top seed to lose in the first round of the current 16-team playoff format, the Pacers will be back on their home floor Monday night against Washington in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Kyle Korver scored 19 points and Jeff Teague had 16 for Atlanta, which won just 38 games in the regular season but proved to be a tough opponent for the Pacers.
The game turned on a 24-6 run over a 10:02 stretch that spanned the second and third quarters. That gave Indiana a 57-40 lead it never surrendered.
Hibbert, who scored 20 points total in the first four games, had a series-high 13 points and seven rebounds. Lance Stephenson finished with 19 points, 14 rebounds and five assists, and George added 11 rebounds for his sixth double-double in the playoffs.
And they all played like they had something to prove after twice squandering chances to take control of the series on their home floor.
They refused to let it happen again.
Indiana completely flipped the script on Atlanta. Instead of chasing the Hawks, the Pacers pulled away. Instead of yielding to the Hawks’ 3-point shooters, the Pacers took advantage of their size by dominating the glass and creating openings for perimeter shooters. And instead of trying to hide Hibbert, the All-Star center who had failed to score in Games 5 or 6, the All-Star center was his old imposing self.
The Pacers finished with a 55-38 rebounding edge and with Hibbert clogging the way, the Hawks were forced to rely primarily on 3-pointers. Atlanta wound up just 11 of 44 from beyond the arc, most coming as it tried to dig out of a double-digit deficit.
It didn’t take Indiana long to demonstrate why this game would be different from the first six.
After the Hawks went on a 7-0 run to take a 23-17 lead late in the first quarter, Indiana answered with its own 7-0 run to make it 24-23 entering the second.
Then after trading the lead seven times early in the second, the Pacers seized control by closing the half on a 14-2 run for a 47-36 lead. Indiana’s usually stout defense didn’t allow a basket over the final 6:12 and Ian Mahinmi emphasized the point with a clean block of Teague’s dunk attempt at the buzzer — a play reminiscent of Hibbert’s series-changing block of Carmelo Anthony in last year’s playoffs.
When the Hawks charged back with a 13-4 run late in the third to get within 66-58, David West hit a midrange jumper and George followed that with a 3. George then opened the fourth by scoring the first six points in the midst of a 9-1 run that gave Indiana an 80-64 lead.
Atlanta never got closer than 10 again.
NOTES: Indiana played a Game 7 at home for the first time in its NBA history. ... The Pacers will face Washington at home Monday and Wednesday, then hit the road Friday and Sunday. ... Atlanta All-Star Paul Millsap didn’t make a basket until the third quarter. ... Atlanta is 2-3 all-time in Game 7s since the franchise moved from St. Louis. ... Defending Indianapolis 500 winner Tony Kanaan attended the game. ... The 14-point margin was Indiana’s second-largest victory margin in a Game 7, trailing only a 27-point win at Boston in 2005.