The bottoming out the Indiana Pacers began priming themselves for weeks ago finally happened Sunday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Twenty-three first-half points.
Again, for clarity sake, that’s 23 first-half points. An all-time first-half low for a franchise dating back to its 1967-68 expansion season in the old American Basketball Association.
Talk about your red, white and boo.
Atlanta’s 107-88 dismantling of a Pacers team in apparent free-fall mode pushes Indiana to the No. 2 seed with Miami having won earlier in the day.
The Heat are now 53-23 compared to Indiana’s 53-25. The Pacers are 7-12 in their past 19 games.
“Clearly a poor performance by our team. It’s not acceptable to anyone in our organization to play that way,” said Indiana coach Frank Vogel, whose answers were brief during his postgame news conference.
“We’re going to get back to work and we’re going to get back on track. I believe in the team’s character. I believe in their ability. But we’ve got to play better than we’re playing.”
After Sunday, there’s only one direction to go.
Atlanta jumped on Indiana early, building a 9-0 lead before Vogel called time at 8:36 of the opening quarter.
The sellout crowd of 18,165 inside Bankers Life Fieldhouse let out a sarcastic cheer when Pacers guard Paul George converted a free throw at 8:21 to finally get the home team on the board.
Atlanta made 10 of its first 14 field goal attempts compared to the Pacers’ 3 of 14. This resulted in a 24-7 lead that continued to swell the more Indiana misfired.
And misfire it did, making 4 of 19 shots the opening quarter and only 3 of 16 in the second stanza.
The Hawks’ 55-23 lead at the half reached a game-high 35 points 36 seconds into the third when center Pero Antic drained a 3-pointer to make it 58-23.
It’s here Indiana finally began showing signs of a pulse, going on an 11-2 run to get an otherwise disinterested crowd back into it.
At 1:05 of the third the Pacers had whittled the margin all the way down to 16 points (75-59) after reserve guard Donald Sloan split two defenders to hit a short jumper off glass.
Atlanta regrouped, though, with an 8-0 scoring run that essentially put the game away.
Vogel played starting center Roy Hibbert a total of 9 minutes and 3 seconds. Hibbert missed all five of his shot attempts, had no rebounds and didn’t see the court at all during the second half.
“He looks to me to be worn down. When he got off to a slow start I decided to rest him the rest of the night,” Vogel said of the 7-foot-2 two-time All-Star. “Our whole starting five looks worn down to me.”
Of the 18 assists the Pacers were credited with, only one came in the first half.
Indianapolis native and former Pike High School guard Jeff Teague led all scorers with 25 points for the Hawks. Antic had 18, while forward Paul Millsap scored 17 and led all rebounders with 11.
For the Pacers, George led the way with 18 points with forward David West adding 13. Indiana’s bench accounted for 42 of its 88 points.
The Pacers now attempt to regroup before playing at Milwaukee on Wednesday night. It only becomes more difficult after that with Indiana playing at Miami on Friday.
Indiana’s final regular-season home game is Sunday at 1 p.m. against Oklahoma City.