The Hawks didn't just lose a critical game Tuesday in Indiana. They lost any breathing room they might have had in the chase for the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot with their loss to the Pacers. Not only do the Hawks, Pacers and New Jersey Nets continue their battle for the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot into this weekend, they could very well take this thing into the final night of the season.
The Hawks are still in the eighth spot going into Friday's game at New York, but just two games ahead of Indiana with both teams having just four games remaining. The Nets were three games back going into Wednesday night's game at Cleveland.
And both the Pacers and Nets own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Hawks by virtue of winning the season series against the Hawks, who play next Friday night in New York.
"We just added a level of drama to this whole thing by not taking care of our business," said Hawks captain and All-Star Joe Johnson.
The Pacers, as expected, were soaring after the win.
"Well, we live to play another day and we hope Atlanta can drop a few and that we keep our sense of urgency at a high level," Pacers forward Mike Dunleavy said. "Obviously, we had a bit of a lull and they got some good runs in on us and we kind of let down. But when it came down to it, we pulled together down the stretch to get this really important win."
The Hawks were on the opposite end of the spectrum after the game, realizing not only what they'd squandered -- they led 20-14 early but never recovered after the Pacers slugged them back -- with their listless performance but also the hard road they'll have to travel now to lock up that playoff spot.
"This is the game we needed to win to lock things up and we didn't do it," said Josh Smith, who finished with 25 points, 13 rebounds, three assists and a block. "Now we have to go down to the wire with this thing and play every game like it's our last."
PACERS 112, HAWKS 98: So much for clinching that playoff spot or ending Indiana's playoff hopes.
The Hawks couldn't even keep up with the Pacers Tuesday night at Conseco Fieldhouse, getting blown off the floor, they trailed by as many 29 points, and eventually blown out in a deflating 14-point loss with huge postseason implications.
"They just played harder than us. It's how hard they played," said Hawks captain and All-Star Joe Johnson, who finished with a game-high 30 points. "We don't play hard, we get our (expletive) kicked. Point blank."
The Hawks lost their cool, too. Josh Smith got a technical foul in the third quarter for arguing with the officials and coach Mike Woodson, Joe Johnson and sixth-man Josh Childress were all in danger of doing the same during a post-halftime meltdown in which the Pacers outscored the Hawks 20-6 in the game-breaking stretch.
Not even the Hawks' frantic, Johnson-led fourth quarter rally (they got to within 10 points twice in the game's final seven minutes) could make up for the disaster that was the Hawks' first 36 minutes, when the Hawks looked lost trying to keep up with the bigger, stronger and much sharper Pacers 34-44 with two home games and two road games remaining.
"Unfortunately, you have to play four quarters," Hawks coach Mike Woodson said. "We only played one quarter. We got back in it and cut it to 10 twice. But you can't spot this team 30 points and expect to come back and win. We didn't have any kind of defensive presence. You're talking about making the playoffs, you better play defense and rebound the ball to give yourself a chance to win."