Edmond Sumner sank three free throws with three-tenths of a second remaining, lifting the playoff-bound Pacers over the Atlanta Hawks 135-134 Wednesday night in the final regular season game for each team.
Indiana, which had lost two straight and five of seven, gained needed momentum for its first-round playoff series against Boston. The Pacers pulled out the win despite coach Nate McMillan’s decision to rest his top five scorers.
“We wanted to get our guys what they needed,” McMillan said, meaning rest for some and minutes for others.
Added McMillan: “We wanted to play this game to win it.”
It wasn’t easy.
Taurean Prince’s 3-pointer with 1.1 seconds remaining gave Atlanta the lead, but DeAndre Bembry’s foul on Sumner’s last-second 3-point attempt changed the game.
TJ Leaf set career highs with 28 points and 10 rebounds for Indiana.
With their fifth seed and matchup with fourth seed Boston already set in the Eastern Conference playoffs, the Pacers were in full lookahead mode.
Darren Collison was the only regular starter in Indiana’s lineup, and he didn’t play in the second half.
McMillan said he wanted to give minutes to “some guys who need to play” while others with “tweaks” needed the rest.
Leaf said the Pacers were motivated to enter the playoffs “with a little bit of momentum, go in with a little bit of confidence. But we know what we can do in this locker room, so we’re excited to get to Boston and get this series going.”
Tyreke Evans scored 27 points and Sumner had 22 for Indiana.
Prince and Trae Young each scored 23 points for Atlanta. John Collins scored 20 points and set a career high with 25 rebounds.
A floater by Young gave Atlanta a 129-128 lead. Following a timeout, Leaf and Atlanta’s Alex Len traded jams, leaving the Hawks with a 131-130 lead. But Atlanta couldn’t pull out the win, even after Prince’s late 3-pointer.
“The lesson is we’ve got a lot of work to do,” said Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce after completing his first season.
“We had a great first year in a lot of ways, but a long way to go,” he added.
The Pacers completed their first season sweep of the Hawks since 2004-05.
Center Alex Len had 20 points and 10 rebounds. While Trae Young scored 23 points in 34 minutes, the Hawks star rookie had 11 assists and six turnovers. Also, Atlanta’s other rookie starter, Kevin Huerter, scored 17 points while making five 3-pointers.
Later today, Hawks players and coaches will have exit interviews, clean out their lockers and depart for the summer. The organization’s focus will then shift to the NBA draft lottery on May 14. The Hawks hope to draw the No. 1 overall pick in the June 20 NBA draft. Currently, Atlanta has two of the first ten picks.