Hawks jump out early, hold off Pacers behind Horford
INDIANAPOLIS -- Atlanta coach Mike Woodson knows his team is almost unbeatable at home.
He's just trying to get the Hawks to believe they can play just as well on the road -- all the time.
On Saturday, they did.
The Hawks used their strong frontline tandem of Al Horford and Josh Smith to overpower Indiana for a 110-98 victory, a game in which Atlanta never trailed.
"I'm not saying we're an elite team, but we're a team I know that if we come committed to play, for 48 minutes, we can beat anyone in this league," Woodson said. "We've got to go home now and handle our business. We've got Cleveland coming in and they're playing pretty well and this is a good win for us to go back home again."
If they play with the same kind of intensity, passion and precision they had against the reeling Pacers, it should be an intriguing game.
The Cavaliers are coming off of a blowout win in Los Angeles. The Hawks (21-8) concluded their four-game road trip at 2-2, including an overtime loss at Chicago and a blowout loss at Denver.
But Saturday, they repeatedly exploited Indiana's soft interior defense by going to their most reliable starters.
Horford finished with 25 points and a season-high 19 rebounds, three short of his career high. Smith, who committed to play basketball at Indiana University before skipping college to jump to the pros, finished with 22 points, six rebounds, five blocks and four steals. Joe Johnson added 24 points, including two 3-pointers.
"It all started with Josh setting the tone early on defense and I just tried to go in there and take what the defense was giving me in the post," Horford said. "That's the way I like to play, that's the way we play."
Indiana (9-19), which is still missing injured All-Star forward Danny Granger, couldn't match the Hawks' inside power.
Before the game, coach Jim O'Brien acknowledged the matchup between Roy Hibbert and Horford would be a challenge if Hibbert didn't move his feet defensively.
So after Horford put up 12 points and 11 rebounds in the first half, Hibbert spent all but 39 seconds of the third quarter on the bench.
He wasn't the only Pacers starter struggling.
The Indiana bench accounted for nearly two-thirds of the scoring, and the only starter to reach double figures was Troy Murphy with 19 points and 12 rebounds. Tyler Hansbrough also had 19 points, and Luther Head scored a season-high 19 -- not nearly enough to end the losing streak that now stands at five games.
"Tyler and Troy had a difficult time, as did our starters, of keeping Horford out away from the basket," O'Brien said. "I went with the guys who I thought gave us the energy to climb out of the hole, but they didn't have enough to come back and get the win."
Things started poorly for Indiana and got worse in a hurry.
Atlanta scored the first nine points and built an 18-4 lead before Indiana even made its second basket, 4 1/2 minutes into the game. The Pacers still trailed 33-20 after one.
Indiana's bench quickly turned things around. The Pacers opened the second quarter with four straight baskets to close to 33-29 and were still within 37-33 with 7:50 left in the half.
But when the starters returned, the Hawks and Pacers reverted to previous form. Horford started a 10-0 run that allowed Atlanta to rebuild a 47-33 lead with 3:24 to go in half, and the Hawks led 51-40 at the break.
O'Brien was frustrated.
"We've been preparing for it [Atlanta's switches] for two days and it never registered with our players that the whole switching you spent Christmas Eve and this morning, talking about it in pregame and during timeouts and then acting like we were surprised they were switching," O'Brien said. "So I don't have an answer for that."
The Hawks' answer: more of the same in the second half.
Smith and Horford continued to dominate inside, as Atlanta opened the second half on a 13-6 run to make it 63-46 and closed the quarter on a 7-3 spurt to build an 84-66 lead.
Indiana got only as close as 11 the rest of the way.
"We've just been playing hard defensively and it's translate into easy baskets," Johnson said. "Everybody's been unselfish, we've just been out there running hard and it's showing that we're maturing as a team."
Atlanta has now won five straight in the series, matching the franchise's longest winning streak against the Pacers. ... Hawks forward Joe Smith missed his eighth consecutive game with a dislocated left thumb. ... Indianapolis native Jeff Teague finished with two points in his only scheduled trip to Indy this season. ... The Pacers are 6-8 at home this season.
Regular Season Series
ATL leads 2-0
- Phil Robinson
- Mark Wunderlich
- Tony Brothers
2022-23 Southeast Standings