No matter what, they can always count on David West.
With the top-seeded Pacers poised for an early summer, West fearlessly led a 16-4 run to end the game, extending the season with a 95-88 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Thursday night.
“He’s our rock,” Indiana coach Frank Vogel said. “There’s no other way to put it.”
Trailing 3-2 after losing at home for the second time in the best-of-seven series, Indiana was in big trouble when the Hawks pushed out to an 84-79 lead with just over 3 minutes remaining, cheered on by a raucous crowd that barely sat down in the second half.
But, for the fourth time in this back-and-forth affair, the road team won.
West seemed to make every big play down the stretch, scoring four straight points and forcing a huge turnover to begin the turnaround. He hit two more baskets in the final minute to wrap things up, finishing with 24 points.
Game 7 is Saturday in Indianapolis.
“When a team is making runs like that, an 8 seed trying to knock off a 1 seed in their building and the place is erupting on every play, we have a guy with the composure to settle everyone down,” Vogel said.
Paul George also scored 24 points for the Pacers, making four straight free throws to help fend off a team that was trying to become only the sixth No. 8 seed to win a playoff series.
The Pacers went with a smaller-than-usual lineup much of the game, hoping to match up better with Atlanta spreading the court and shooting a bunch of 3-pointers. Roy Hibbert remained the starting center, but played only about 12 minutes for the second game in a row. Ian Mahinmi played nearly twice as long, giving Indiana more mobility in the lane, while C.J. Watson and Chris Copeland also got extensive minutes.
It worked. Atlanta bogged down offensively and made only 9-of-35 from beyond the arc.
“We tried some different lineups,” West said. “Coach rolled the dice.”
West came up big all over the court, also leading the Pacers with 11 rebounds and six assists, not to mention a couple of steals.
“I told the guys, ‘If worse comes to worse, we’ve got to play park basketball,’” he said.
Atlanta, playing perhaps its biggest home playoff game since the 1980s, looked as if it was on the verge of a huge celebration when the defense sagged and Jeff Teague knocked down a jumper with 3:16 to go.
But, led by West, the Pacers showed some of the resolve they’ve lacked in a late-season swoon. After swishing a pair of free throws, he hustled back to swat the ball away from Atlanta’s Pero Antic. Making sure Indiana took advantage of the turnover, West calmly made a jumper from the top of the key.
Paul Millsap missed at the other end, and George Hill burst into the lane to drop one in. Just like that, the Pacers were back up 85-84 with 1:58 remaining.
Antic tied it for the final time, 85-all, on a free throw with 1:24 remaining. But that was it for the Hawks.
West hit another jumper to put the Pacers ahead for good. Then, coming off a timeout, Lou Williams drove under the basket and tried to throw an outlet pass to Teague; instead, the ball went right to George. He was immediately fouled, made both free throws, and Teague missed again for the Hawks after a brilliant night to seal it for the Pacers.
Teague scored 29 points, nearly pulling out a victory on a night when Atlanta shot just under 36 percent.
“Nobody’s going to lay down and just allow their season to be over with,” Williams said. “Especially with the type of basketball team that they are. I think they just did a great job of just fighting at that 3-minute mark and made the plays that we didn’t.”
The bruising series nearly turned ugly near the end of the first half. Scott doled out an elbow to Hill, and the Pacers guard responded with a shove. The refs jumped in quickly and no punches were thrown. After initially calling a foul on Hill, the officials got together and changed it to Scott. The crowd booed lustily, but it appeared to be the correct call.
Replays appeared to show a couple of Indiana players stepping beyond the bench area, but they didn’t get involved and Vogel said he didn’t expect any discipline from the league for Game 7.
NOTES: Millsap and Williams were the only other Atlanta players in double figures, both with 16 points. ... Lance Stephenson scored 21 points for the Pacers. ... Millsap had 18 rebounds.