Game 3 did nothing to change that perception.
The top-seeded Pacers are on the ropes again at the hands of the eighth-seeded Hawks, who finished six games below .500 during the regular season but truly believe they can pull off a major upset in the opening round of the playoffs.
Atlanta is playing with confidence and swagger — and even got a crucial call to go its way.
Jeff Teague flung in a wild 3-pointer after the officials missed him stepping out of bounds, and Kyle Korver finished off Indiana from beyond the arc to lead the Atlanta Hawks to a 98-85 victory Thursday night and another lead in the series.
The Hawks took control in the third quarter — the decisive period in all three games — and held off the Pacers to go up 2-1 in the best-of-seven series.
Game 4 is Saturday in Atlanta.
The Hawks were up 84-78 with the shot clock running down when Teague launched a running shot from the wing — after his foot clipped the line.
“I knew it was a 3,” Teague said. “Hopefully they just count it.”
They did, even after a video review. Referee Tony Brothers explained that officials took another look at the play merely to determine if Teague was behind the 3-point line when he shot. There wasn’t any doubt about that, and under NBA rules the only other thing they could look at was the position of Teague’s feet when the ball left his hand. He was clearly in bounds when he shot.
Korver clinched the victory with the last of his four 3s, putting Atlanta up 92-80 with 1:41 remaining. That was only appropriate, since the Hawks made 10 3s in the second half.
“In the second half, we came out and made some big shots,” Teague said. “Everybody played well.”
Teague scored 22 points and Korver added 20 to lead the Hawks, who are having their way with an Indiana team that struggled down the stretch and is still scrambling to regain the form it showed much of the season.
Lance Stephenson led the Pacers with 21 points, and Luis Scola added 17 in another stellar performance off the bench. But Paul George was held to 12 points on 3-of-11 shooting, George Hill made only 1-of-11 from the field, and Roy Hibbert continually missed shots close to the hoop.
“We have a dream of winning it all,” George said. “We’ve got be much more tougher than that. I don’t think it’s there. Our toughness is questionable right now.”
Hibbert is having an especially rough time, scoring only 18 points in the first three games on 7-of-25 shooting. Coach Frank Vogel was asked if he planned on making a lineup change, especially given the Pacers had more success with their 7-footer on the bench.
“We’re going to look at everything,” Vogel said. “He has not played well in the series to this point. But we still have confidence in Roy Hibbert.”
Teague made the biggest shot of all for the Hawks. Looking up to see the clock running down, he dribbled to his left and threw it up with Scola in his face. Nothing but net. Teague smiled and shrugged his shoulders on the way back down the court, as surprised as anyone that it went in.
“A lot of times those plays that you draw up don’t work the way that you want them to,” Korver said. “You improvise and sometimes you throw stuff up as the shot clock’s coming down and it goes in. I’m glad that it happened for us and not for them.”
The Hawks stunned the Pacers in Game 1 at Indianapolis and led by as many as 11 in the first half of Game 2, before the Pacers finally looked like the top seed in the East with a dominant third quarter that evened the series.
This time, the Hawks gained the upper hand in the third — just as they did in the series opener. Korver knocked down a 3-pointer from the corner off a fast break, prompting the Pacers to call a timeout. They needed another after Teague soared for a thunderous dunk off an Indiana turnover, pushing Atlanta to a 10-point lead, matching its biggest of the game to that point.
The Hawks went to the final quarter riding a wave of momentum when Lou Williams stepped back and swished a 3 with just 1.2 seconds left in the third, pushing Atlanta ahead 67-58.
NOTES: The Hawks improved to 15-2 against Indiana at Philips Arena since December 2006. ... Both teams shot under 40 percent from the field. ... DeMarre Carroll scored 18 points for Atlanta. ... Stephenson had a double-double with 13 rebounds. ... Scola got into it with Atlanta’s Mike Scott midway through the second quarter. They were quickly separated and assessed technical fouls.