Howard, Hawks dominate Pacers in the paint for 100th head-to-head victory

Myles Turner had his hands full all game long against the Hawks. [Frank McGrath/PS&E]

Myles Turner had his hands full all game long against the Hawks. [Frank McGrath/PS&E]

Myles Turner got his first taste of battling against the fierce specimen that is Dwight Howard for significant minutes. As a full-time starter in his second season, this has become an ongoing theme for the rising star.

On this night, Turner and the Pacers were handled in the paint — in what was the dominant story line from their 96-85 loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night. This Hawks (10-5) opened the season 9-2, but had dropped three straight contests entering Wednesday.

They suffered losses to Charlotte, New York, and an undermanned New Orleans team.

For the Pacers, three-time All-Star Paul George was back on the floor after he missed the three previous games due to a sore left ankle. And although he had returned, it was clear that he hadn’t practiced or played in a week.

“(Paul) just looked like he was short on his shots and didn’t really have rhythm,” said Pacers coach Nate McMillan. “He had some open looks that we know he normally knocks down. His shot was short a few times.”

George was 6-for-22 from the field, including 2-for-11 from deep.

Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said Howard emphasized the importance of a strong start to the team before the game. And they set the tone by owning the lane. Dwight Howard had seven first-quarter rebounds to the Pacers’ four, and the Hawks, who led by seven points through one, had a 15 to 4 advantage on the glass.

And that was a battle they fought for 48 minutes.

“He came in with the right mindset tonight,” Budenholzer shared. “You could tell right away his goal was to get every rebound. He spoke to the team in the locker room before the game about getting off to a good start and he went out and proved it.”

Howard, who like Jeff Teague is now playing for his hometown team, had perhaps his best game in a Hawks uniform. He was dominant and the Pacers had no answer for him inside. Howard challenged the Pacers all evening and finished with 23 points and a season-high 20 rebounds. He recorded his 11th double-double of the season with 4:46 left in the first half.

For the Pacers, they suffered their worst rebounding deficit of the season, 56 to 37. Through 16 games, this was the sixth time they had been out-rebounded by double digits.

“It was a tough battle,” Turner, who quietly contributed seven points and nine rebounds, said of matching up against Howard. “He had a good game. Not much you can say.”

“Wee got to get our guards, everybody in the paint to help smash on elite rebounders like that,” McMillan said. “You can’t think that one guy is going to keep a guy like that off the boards.

“They dominated the offensive boards, therefore we were taking the ball out of the net and were playing against a set defense — and that’s going to slow things down.”

Howard finished with 20+ rebounds for the 61st time in his career.

Howard finished with 20+ rebounds for the 61st time in his career.

The numbers are staggering, seeing as Indiana gave up 48 points in the paint and 19 second chance points came out off of 17 offensive boards. Howard’s partner inside, Paul Millsap, excelled as well. He poured in 18 points and 11 rebounds.

“We just didn’t squash down on Dwight Howard,” Thad Young said. “I think he had nine offensive rebounds and that’s huge when playing a team like the Hawks.”

Young topped his season-high point total from Sunday with his best showing in a Pacers uniform. He confidently scored 24 points (10-for-13) and grabbed seven rebounds while playing a team-high 41 minutes.

Atlanta opened the second quarter on a 12-2 run to stretch its lead to 17. Indiana then responded with an 18-6 run to cut it to five at the break.

Defensively, the Pacers gambled too frequently, committed silly fouls, and then turned the ball over 20 times. That’s not a recipe for success.

“We got ourselves back into the game and then we took a gamble,” McMillan said. “They made a couple buckets, a couple turnovers, and then all of a sudden the momentum shifted back to those guys.”

Much of it comes down to effort for this bunch. They played some of their best minutes following some physical exchanges — first, between Teague and Howard, and than George and Sefolosha.

“We just need better effort,” Turner said.

The Pacers got to within one, 65-64, with under four minutes to play in the third quarter. Coach McMillan then went back to his bench, and the Hawks put the Pacers away for good — using a 19-2 run (65-64 to 84-66) spanning the third and fourth frames to grow their lead, which reached as many as 20.

When Turner missed 21 games due to a thumb fracture during his rookie season last year, he focused on improving his game and analyzing film of opponents. There is nothing like true experience — in anything — and you can chalk this up as another learning experience for the 20-year-old.

“He’s a second-year player trying to anchor your defense and try to defend the basket,” said McMillan. “This is a learning experience for him. He has to develop into that center of the future for us.”

The Hawks’ win tonight was their 100th regular-season victory over the Pacers, more than any other franchise.

Teague on facing his former team for the first time: “It was awkward but it was fun to compete. I wish we could have won.”

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