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Pacers clinch playoff berth, will meet Cleveland in first round

Paul George scored 32 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to lead the Indiana Pacers over the Atlanta Hawks Wednesday night. (Photos via Pacers.com)

INDIANAPOLIS — It took every minute of all 82 games this season, but the Indiana Pacers clinched a berth in the 2017 NBA Playoffs on the final day of the regular season Wednesday with a 104-86 victory over the Atlanta Hawks at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

With the win, Indiana finished at 42-40 for the season, closing on a five-game winning streak to sneak into the playoffs as the No. 7 seed in the East. They will meet the No. 2 seed and defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs, which will begin on Saturday.

“It’s both a relief and excitement to go into a new season,” Pacers head coach Nate McMillan said. “This team was built to get into the playoffs. I think we’re playing good basketball and we can play better.”

Paul George led the way for Indiana, scoring 32 points and grabbing 11 rebounds.

“When our back is against the wall, we figure things out,” George said. “It just showed the character of this team, that we knew all along that we should have been a playoff team, we just hadn’t figured out how to play the game the right way. I think we did that at the right time.”

The Hawks, who had clinched the No. 5 seen in the East on Tuesday night, rested each of their top five scorers, including Paul Millsap and Dwight Howard. The team Atlanta put on the floor Wednesday was devoid of an offensive threat, giving Indiana the opportunity to pull away late despite not shooting particularly well in the first half.

The Pacers led 50-43 at halftime and used a 34-point third quarter to pull away for good.

A scary moment came late in the fourth quarter, when Jeff Teague appeared to twist an ankle and headed straight to the locker room after hobbling off the floor. Early indications are that the injury was minor and shouldn’t slow Teague heading into the playoffs.

Game 1 between the Pacers and Cavaliers is scheduled for 3 p.m. on Saturday.

“I’m excited, I love the playoffs,” Myles Turner said. “That little taste I got of it last year — I want to go even further this year. We’ve got a challenge ahead of us, but I think we’re all up for it.”

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