The Hawks stand at the brink of clinching a spot in the second round of the NBA playoffs.
INDIANAPOLIS — Was five months of fine-tuning swallowed by five flicks of the wrist by ... Mike Scott?
Was a season's pursuit of home-court advantage, the league's finest record at home and the East's top seed spoiled by an unheralded explosion by ...Shelvin Mack?
Was everything the Indiana Pacers worked for, from the moment Game 7 ended last June in Miami, lost in the blink of a 12-minute span in which the no-name, no-care Atlanta Hawks erupted for 41 points and shot to a 21-point lead that eventually enabled them to steal a pivotal Game 5 on the Pacers' home floor?
"The second quarter was the difference," said David West. "The first six minutes, they scored 30-some-odd points. That was the game."
"We didn't bring it in the second quarter and it killed us," chimed in Lance Stephenson.
The Pacers were outscored by the tune of 41-19 in the second quarter of a 107-97 Game 5 loss that digs them into a 3-2 deficit heading into a win-or-go home Game 6 on Thursday night in Atlanta.
The avalanche started slowly, a long-range bomb to start the second-quarter from Scott, a second-year pro out of Virginia whose three-point range mirrors the larger threat Atlanta has presented the Pacers all series. Indiana can't defend the hot-shooting Hawks when they're spreading the floor and sharing the ball, and especially not when Scott drills five 3s in a single quarter.
He made a second, then banked in a third. Then made a fourth. Then a fifth.
"They hit 3 after 3 and we never responded," Stephenson said.
Scott, who scored all of his 17 points in that second-quarter blitz, joined his less-publicized reserves in burying the Pacers on Monday night in what may go down as the most damaging quarter of the 2013-14 Indiana Pacers' season.
"If you could explain it, you'd have to bottle it up," Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said of Scott's unlikely explosion. "He's someone we have a lot of trust in, a lot of confidence in."
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It was part of a 30-6 spurt that wrested control for the Hawks. The Pacers tried and tried, scraped and scraped, but they could never climb out of the hole they dug themselves early.
Indiana went from leading by one at the end of one quarter to trailing by 21 at half.
Rarely have emotions of such a critical playoff game swung so soundly and so sharply.
And yet, there was more than Scott: Mack, the former Butler standout, enjoyed what very well may be the finest game of his professional career, scoring a playoff-high 20 points to lead all Atlanta scorers.
"I thought in the second quarter we played with great pace," Mack said. "We had fresh legs. Me, Lou (Williams) and Mike (Scott) were able to get up and down the court and push the pace and get a lot of good shots."
They got good shots and made them, shooting 50% from the floor and 56% from three-point range.
How does a No. 8 seed win a pivotal Game 5 on the road? By shooting like that.
Now, Indiana is stuck staring at a possible playoff exit far sooner than anyone — themselves included — could have foreseen.
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