INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Paul George offered to do anything it took to win in the playoffs.
He lived up to his word.
The All-Star forward scored a career playoff high 23 points Sunday, finished with 11 rebounds and 12 assists, played good defense and, yes, led the rejuvenated Pacers to a 107-90 victory over Atlanta and their first 1-0 lead in the playoffs since 2006.
``I just tell myself, `keep attacking,'' George said. ``The last week I've just really have been trying to take care of my body, getting massages, cold tub, eating healthy.'
George, who had been trying to recover from an abdominal strain, and his teammates certainly had time to get healthy after coach Frank Vogel gave four of the starters three days off following last Sunday's loss at New York. None of the four - George, Roy Hibbert, George Hill and David West - logged a minute in Wednesday's regular-season finale, either.
The extra rest was just what George and his teammates needed.
They came into the playoffs with five losses in six games and trailed by at least 20 points in all six of those games. On Sunday, they trailed for exactly 5 minutes, 33 seconds, taking the lead for good when Hill knocked down one of his three 3-pointers.
George took care of the rest.
Despite going 3 of 13 from the field, the All-Star forward made his first 17 free throws - tying Reggie Miller's single-game playoff record for best percentage. George then missed his 18th and final free throw with 2:35 to play, falling just short of Miller's mark.
He did, however, achieve another milestone - joining Mark Jackson as the only players in franchise history to record a triple double in postseason play. Jackson achieved his feat May 13, 1998, against New York.
The only complaint in the Pacers' locker room was that he did too much work.
``I had to ask him just to ease up after he got the triple-double and let me get some rebounds,' Hibbert joked. ``But I'm happy for him. I believe in him.'
The Pacers will definitely need more productivity out of George if they're going to advance to a second-round matchup against either New York or Boston.
But if Sunday's game is any indication, the Pacers appear to be back after their late-season struggles.
They had a balanced offensive attack with six players scoring in double figures. Hill, who sat out parts of practice Friday and Saturday with an injured left groin, made his first six shots and finished 7 of 10 from the field with three 3-pointers and 18 points. Hibbert still got 16 points and 11 rebounds, and backup Jeff Pendergraph scored 11 points, too.
That wasn't all.
The Pacers outrebounded Atlanta 48-32, limited the Hawks to 14 fast-break points and 90 overall. It was their best defensive performance in two weeks.
And for a change, the Pacers didn't even have to try and rally from a 20-point deficit.
It's only a start.
``All we did is protect our home court,' Vogel said. ``What do they say? The playoffs don't really start until the home team loses a game? We took Game 1 and we have to get Game 2.'
The Hawks will have to play much better Wednesday if they intend to steal a game at Indy before heading home for Games 3 and 4.
Indy native Jeff Teague led the Hawks with 21 points and seven assists, while Josh Smith had 15 points and eight rebounds. The only other Atlanta player to reach double figures was Al Horford with 14 points.
The biggest complaints from the players were about free throws. Indiana was 30 of 34. Atlanta was 7 of 14.
Coach Larry Drew discounted those concerns and is now asking his team to focus on making the corrections.
``I thought we let some calls affect us early, we seemed like we complained the whole game. You can't do that at this level of play. You just can't do that,' Drew said. ``You've got to play through calls and we didn't do that. Whether we perceive it's a good whistle or a bad whistle, you have to play through it and we didn't do that.'
Instead, the Pacers responded to the Hawks' early challenge with a 9-0 run that gave them a 19-13 lead. They extended it to 34-26 after one quarter and never trailed again, despite the Hawks' valiant attempts to come back. Atlanta cut the deficit to four late in the second quarter but still trailed 58-50 at the half, and cut a 15-point lead down to eight in the fourth.
That was the best Atlanta could do in Game 1.
``We have to run the offense with a little bit more pace and, just, everybody had to be ready and down on the defensive end. We have to help each other out,' Hawks forward Josh Smith said after scoring 15 points. ``We have to understand that there's going to be some defensive breakdowns and that we have to be there for each other. ``
NOTES: The Hawks dropped to 0-3 this season at Indiana, but have won 11 straight in Atlanta over the Pacers. ... Hibbert played with the phrase ``B Strong' written on his white shoe Sunday, a message to the people of Boston following the bombings at the marathon early last week. ... The Hawks returned to Atlanta after the game and will practice there Monday and Tuesday before returning to Indy on Wednesday.
The Associated Press News Service
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