INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana salvaged its season Saturday by reverting to form: its first-half form.
Paul George scored a career playoff-high 30 points, Lance Stephenson added 19 and Roy Hibbert finally came up big against the more nimble Atlanta Hawks as the Pacers survived a first-round scare with a 92-80 victory in the decisive seventh game.
Two days after staving off elimination in Atlanta, the top-seeded Pacers did it again and advanced to a second-round series against Washington that starts Monday in Indiana.
“We know what we want to get to and we know what our journey is,” George said.
Though they have a quick turnaround, at least the Pacers get a brief respite from the problems and distractions that lingered during the series.
Indiana, the NBA’s best home team during the regular season, twice gave away home-court advantage by losing Games 1 and 5. Those losses sparked public debate about what needed to change in the offseason and whether coach Frank Vogel would even return if the Pacers became the sixth No. 1 seed to lose in the first round since the league went to its current 16-team playoff format.
Atlanta’s spread offense and 3-point shooters had Indiana’s normally stout defense scrambling for answers after the Hawks took a 3-2 lead Monday night.
Hibbert, an All-Star center, was a non-factor with just 20 points in the first six games combined.
George spent the week dealing with a burglary at his home and the possibility of a Game 7 suspension.
None of it mattered Saturday.
George sparked the two biggest runs of the game, finished 11 of 23 from the field and grabbed 11 rebounds for a league-leading sixth double-double in the playoffs.
Stephenson added nine rebounds and five assists, and wiggled his hips after a game-clinching dunk with 80 seconds to go. Hibbert awoke from his recent slumber with 13 points, seven rebounds and five blocks.