After dodging a playoff bullet in their first series, the Atlanta Hawks took one straight between the eyes Thursday when the Indiana Pacers beat them, 98-79, to win their NBA Eastern Conference semifinal series, 4-2.
The Hawks, who had the best record in the East during the regular season and were seeded first going into the playoffs, had been extended to a fifth game in beating the Miami Heat in the first round, but this time the competition proved too stiff.
Center Rik Smits, a thorn in Atlanta’s side in the final four games of the series, scored 11 of his 27 points a third quarter in which Indiana outscored the Hawks, 34-16. The Pacers opened the second half with a 12-2 spurt for a 50-37 lead and never looked back.
The Hawks joined the Seattle on the playoff sidelines in the first year since 1977-78 that both top-seeded teams failed to advance to the finals.
Indiana advanced to the finals, to play the winner of the Chicago-New York series, for the first time since entering the NBA in 1976. The franchise had won three ABA championships, but had been 4-17 in NBA playoff games before this season.
Indiana, which swept the Orlando Magic in the opening round, improved to 7-2 in this year’s playoffs, including a 4-0 record at home.
The Pacers nursed a 38-35 lead at halftime before blowing the game open in the third quarter. Atlanta closed within 53-46 with 4:08 to play in the third, but the Pacers answered with a 19-5 surge to end the quarter and put the game out of reach.
Reggie Miller had 18 points, Derrick McKey 17 and reserve Byron Scott 14 for the Pacers.
Danny Manning had 21 points for the Hawks.