After a 2011-12 campaign that saw Roy Hibbert make his first All-Star appearance, the emerging big man signed a four-year deal worth $58 million. Hibbert, who was expected to live up to lofty expectations based on his contract, plateaued during the regular season, and posted near identical numbers to his ’11-12 output. It initially looked as if the Pacers jumped the gun and offered too much money for Hibbert’s services. But during the last two Playoff wins against the Knicks, the 7-2 center has been nothing short of dominant and is earning every penny.
Hibbert made his presence felt on the defensive end in the Pacers’ Game 1 victory by owning the paint and using his size and length to disrupt the smallball Knicks. In Game 3, Hibbert showed flashes of Hakeem Olajuwon with crafty post moves and a beautiful touch en route to 24 points and 12 boards as the Pacers blew out their Eastern Conference foe in front of a raucous Indiana crowd.
The Knicks fell behind from the jump and were forced to play catch-up for the rest of the evening. Four days after being embarrassed in New York, Indiana battered the Knicks by getting back to their physical brand of basketball and New York looked beaten down and out of gas in the second half. The Pacers used a 14-3 third quarter run to go up by 14, which was more than enough to keep the cold shooting Knicks at bay—the Knicks never got closer than eight. New York found success with their small lineups during the regular season and Round 1 against the Celtics, but the Pacers are using a punch-you-in-the-mouth style of basketball proving that tough defense and a presence in the middle can still take you far—even if it means scoring 82 points.
Indiana has effectively shut down Carmelo Anthony during the series and, in the process, completely disrupted the Knicks’ flow. JR Smith has been catching all the flack, but Melo has now shot 29-70 for the series. You have to give Melo credit for the way he has played through nagging injuries, but credit the Pacers as well; they have been physical with the scoring champ all series and have him noticeably frustrated.
Paul George scored 14 points, grabbed 8 boards and dished out 8 assists while George Hill hit five threes and tallied 17 points.
Amar’e Stoudemire made his return and looked predictably out of sync. He played just under nine minutes and scored 7 points on 3-8 shooting.
With Game 4 set for Tuesday night in Indiana, the Pacers have a chance to take a commanding 3-1 lead before heading back to New York. For the Knicks, it’s a tough spot to be in, but they’re not done yet. The pressure is on in New York and it’s time for the Knicks stars to step up or they’ll find themselves on the links this time next week.—Peter Walsh
The Grizzlies look like a better team than the Thunder. After nearly taking both games in Oklahoma City but settling on a split to start the series, Memphis outplayed OKC at home last night. With 39 seconds left, Kevin Durant shockingly missed a pair of free throws that would have cut a four-point deficit to two. Memphis hung on from there.
Marc Gasol was great, scoring 20 points with 9 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals. He hit a bunch of big shots and displayed his impressive passing ability. Mike Conley played well with 14 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists. Zach Randolph struggled from the floor (4-12) but managed 10 boards, and Tony Allen scored 14 with a pair of steals.
Despite losing Rudy Gay, OJ Mayo, Marreese Speights and Wayne Ellington in the last 12 months, Memphis seems more ready than ever to make a deep Playoff push. Conley and Gasol (and maybe Allen) are playing the best ball of their lives. Randolph has been a force in the postseason. Tayshaun Prince and Quincy Pondexter are a pretty good duo at small forward. Darrell Arthur and Jerryd Bayless are great off the bench. They are underratedly deep (Ed Davis isn’t even in their rotation), have a bunch of serious offensive weapons and play lock-down defense.
For the Thunder, Durant scored 25 with 11 boards and 5 assists, but didn’t get enough help. Kevin Martin scored 13 on 17 shots. He’s really failed to step as the number two scoring option with Westbrook injured. Serge Ibaka (ditto) scored 13 with 10 rebounds and 4 blocks. He’s always good, but I thought he might start scoring more without Westbrook. It hasn’t happened so far. Reggie Jackson scored 16 with a big 10 boards but just 2 assists. A few guys with double-figures around Durant isn’t terrible, but OKC probably needs one of Martin, Ibaka or Jackson to score 20+ to beat Memphis. The team shot under 37 percent overall on Saturday.
If the Grizzlies can win on Wednesday night, they’ll head back to Oklahoma City up 3-1 with one more home game remaining. That would be a bad situation for a Thunder team that hasn’t found any offensive consistency since Westbrook went down. Memphis has the upper hand right now, but a team with the best player in the Conference can never be ruled out of a series.—Leo Sepkowitz