INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Pacers certainly didn’t make it easy on themselves, but they found a way to qualify for the NBA Playoffs for the sixth time in the past seven seasons and for the 24th time in franchise history.
Paul George had 32 points and 11 rebounds, and Jeff Teague added 19 points and seven assists before rolling his left ankle late in the fourth quarter Wednesday night, leading Indiana to a 104-86 playoff-clinching victory against the Atlanta Hawks.
Indiana earns the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference and will open against the No. 2 seed Cleveland Cavaliers. Game 1 is set for 3 p.m. Saturday in Cleveland.
“I’m excited about the opportunity,” said George, who made 12 of 21 field goal attempts against the Hawks. “I guess that’s because we’re doing everything right. When our back is against the wall, we figure things out. It just showed the character of this team, that we knew all along that we should have been a playoff team. We just had to figure out how to play the right way.”
Teague went directly to the locker room after being injured with 2:06 to play but did return to the court for the postgame celebration.
Sitting at 37-40 with five games to play, Indiana rode George’s scoring to a five-game, season-ending winning streak and a playoff berth. George has scored 20 points or more in 12 consecutive games.
“We got in,” Indiana coach Nate McMillan said. “We had an uphill climb. It wasn’t an easy game tonight with all those Atlanta players sitting out. I thought we were a little hesitant, a little tight in the first half. In the second half, we started to relax. It’s both a relief and excitement to go into a new season now.”
Having clinched the No. 5 spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs with a Tuesday night victory against Charlotte, Atlanta (43-39) rested guard Kent Bazemore, guard Tim Hardaway, Jr., center Dwight Howard, forward Paul Millsap and guard Dennis Schroder against Indiana.
Atlanta will begin the playoffs against No. 4 seed Washington on Sunday afternoon.
“I am proud of the way our guys competed tonight,” Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer said. “I thought they really got after it. But credit Indiana. They came out to get into us defensively and applied a lot of pressure.”
Without those five double-figure scorers, Indiana (42-40) steadily pulled away to qualify for the playoffs for a second consecutive season and for the 22nd time in the past 28 seasons. Myles Turner added 18 points and eight rebounds for Indiana.
The Hawks were led by Ersan Ilyasova’s 15 points. Jose Calderon added 12 and Taurean Prince added 11. Atlanta made 11 shots from 3-point range but shot only 41.7 percent and turned the ball over 18 times, producing 25 Pacers’ points.
“It was good for our other guys to get a lot of minutes and get their confidence up and get ready for the playoffs,” Calderon said. “The (starters) were able to get healthy. We played hard to the end but a few guys ran out of gas.”
The Pacers got a 14-point third quarter from Teague and made 11 of 17 field goal attempts in the pivotal period, expanding a seven-point halftime lead to 84-68 through 36 minutes.
Atlanta turned the ball over six times in the third quarter, leading to eight Pacers points.
George scored 14 first-half points, including four 3-pointers, and added seven rebounds, and Turner added 10 points and six rebounds during the first 24 minutes to help the Pacers lead 50-43 at intermission.
Indiana, which shot 42.2 percent in the first half, made eight 3-pointers before halftime, including 3 of 5 from Miles. The Pacers led by as many as 11 in the opening half.
Ilyasova had eight first-half points for Atlanta, and DeAndre Bembry added seven.
The Hawks shot 43.2 percent in the opening half.
NOTES: For the second time in three seasons, Indiana’s playoff hopes were determined in Game 82. The Pacers lost at Memphis on the final night of the 2015 season and were denied a playoff berth. … Indiana played without C Al Jefferson (sprained left ankle) and G Glenn Robinson III (sore left calf). … Atlanta had its four-game winning streak snapped. … Indiana G Jeff Teague — an Indianapolis native — played the first seven seasons of his NBA career with the Hawks, helping the team qualify for the playoffs in each of those seven seasons. … Indiana is the NBA’s second-best free throw shooting team at 81 percent … Atlanta ranks second in opponent’s turnovers with 15.5.