ATLANTA (AP) — The Indiana Pacers’ final playoff warmup generated a rare triple dose of good news — rest for the starters, valuable experience for the backups and a win for all.
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.
Pacers: McMillan said F Myles Turner (sore right ankle) “should be ready” for the playoffs. McMillan said G Wesley Matthews (sore right toe) would be questionable if the playoffs started Wednesday night. ... Leaf’s previous high was 18 points against Minnesota on Feb. 28.
Hawks: Len had 20 points and 10 rebounds. ... Young had 11 assists and six turnovers while Atlanta’s other rookie starter, Kevin Huerter, scored 17 points while making five 3-pointers.
ONE MORE YEAR
Fans chanted “One more year!” when Vince Carter stood at the free-throw line in the third quarter. It looks like they’ll get their wish. Before completing his 21st season, Carter, 42, said he’d like to play another season. “If they’ll have me I’m all for it,” Carter said before the game. Pierce said the decision belongs to Carter.
Pacers center Kyle O’Quinn was ejected with 5:39 remaining for his Flagrant 2 foul on Young. O’Quinn reached out and hit Young in the head, knocking the rookie to the floor, following a steal by Young. The blow did not appear to be intentional.
The hard foul seemed to motivate Young, who made both free throws before sinking an extra-long 3-pointer and then adding a three-point play, giving Atlanta a 59-58 lead. Indiana led 73-69 at halftime.
Pacers: As Eastern Conference fifth seed, Indiana will play at fourth seed Boston for the first two games of the first round of the NBA playoffs.
Hawks: Atlanta’s focus shifts to the NBA draft lottery on May 14. The Hawks hope to draw the No. 1 overall pick in the June 20 NBA draft.