By TYLER SMITH (@TylerSmith_ISL)
INDIANAPOLIS — It all came down to Game 82.
After one of the most up and down seasons you’ll ever see, the Pacers finished the season with five straight wins. And they needed every one of them.
The Pacers defeated the Atlanta Hawks 104-86 on Wednesday night, clinching a playoff spot as the No. 7-seed in the Eastern Conference. Had the Pacers lost any of their final five games, they would’ve been watching the playoffs from home.
After leading 50-43 at halftime, the Pacers pulled away in the 3rd-quarter and never looked back.
Paul George continued his red-hot streak. He’s now scored over 20 points in 12 straight games, and finished with 32 points and 11 rebounds. Jeff Teague had a big night against his former team with 19 points and seven assists. Myles Turner added 18 points and eight rebounds.
So what does it all mean after 82 games? It means another playoff date with LeBron James.
The Pacers will face the No. 2-seed and defending World Champion Cleveland Cavaliers in the first-round. Game One will be Saturday at 3 ET in Cleveland.
These teams just played a double-overtime thriller in Cleveland on April 2nd. That was the last time the Pacers lost a game, and it was also Lance Stephenson’s first game back with the Pacers. The Cavs will be heavy favorites in the series, but the defending champs could be in for a battle. The series will undoubtedly feature some interesting story-lines.
LeBron after realizing he gets to battle Lance and Paul in another series. pic.twitter.com/bbtLAz4PLp
— Tyler Smith (@TylerSmith_ISL) April 13, 2017
“It’s going to be a dog fight,” said Paul George. “We’re ready. Everybody has a clear understanding of what needs to be done. We have to approach it like any other game. We can’t think about them being the second best team, or defending champs, or none of that. We’re playing great basketball, and we’re ready for this.”
George finished the month of April averaging 33.0 points per game, after averaging 26.8 points per game in March. His confidence is sky high at the right time.
“I love the playoffs,” he said. “I love the big stage. I’m confident I can get to another level.”
Even if the Pacers fall short against the Cavs, making the playoffs was something this team needed. They’re hoping to sign Paul George to an extension this summer, and missing the playoffs wouldn’t have helped that effort. If Indiana can compete and make it a series with Cleveland, it could go a long way in their attempt to extend their franchise player.
It’s been a wildly inconsistent year for the blue and gold. But throw all of the numbers out the window now. All that matters is what begins on Saturday.