Post Up: Indiana Advances
The hard-nosed Pacers hold off New York and are headed to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Indiana 106, New York 99 (Pacers win series 4-2)
Carmelo Anthony gained a step on Paul George, drove baseline and climbed the ladder for a powerful dunk that would have silenced the Pacers crowd and given the Knicks the boost they needed to send the series back to New York for a Game 7. Pacers center Roy Hibbert was having none of that.
Hibbert, who head coach Frank Vogel called the “best rim protector in the league” during his press conference, rotated over, met Melo at the rim and had the biggest block of his career, one that shifted the balance of the game and took the wind out of New York’s sails.
Hibbert was nothing short of dominant and absolutely owned the paint all series long. His swat on Melo put an emphatic stamp on a 21-point, 12-rebound, 5-block performance. Hibbert made last year’s Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler look like he didn’t even belong in the same league and was undoubtedly the MVP for the Pacers.
The Pacers jumped out to a 12-point lead in the third quarter and looked like they were going to run away with the game. But, the Knicks suddenly caught fire, as Iman Shumpert hit three straight 3-pointers, and JR Smith hit another to lead a 12-2 Knicks run that tied the game up. In the fourth, Chris Copeland hit back-to-back 3-pointers to give the Knicks an 89-86 lead with 9:01 left. The Pacers regained the lead but Smith hit another 3 to give New York a 92-90 lead. Then Hibbert’s block came and everything changed for the Knicks. New York was visibly rattled and fell apart down the stretch. Indiana capitalized with an 11-2 run to put the Knicks away for good and advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2004.
SLAM favorite Lance Stephenson was sensational for Indiana. Born Ready, who had a great series, scored a career-high 25 points, grabbed 10 boards and absolutely bullied the Knicks’ undersized backcourt. Paul George scored 23 points and David West finished with 17. Indiana also went to the stripe 46 times compared to the Knicks’ 18.
Carmelo Anthony had his best game of the series and single-handedly kept the Knicks in the game as his teammates continued their shooting slump. Melo finished with 39 points but had a tough fourth quarter with a few costly turnovers and looked like he ran out of gas after getting pummeled all season long.
Though New York was outmatched in this series, when put in perspective—something that doesn’t exist in the Big Apple, where anything less than a Championship is considered a failure—they had a tremendous season. Now, the Knicks front office has to regroup and make a lot of tough decisions going forward. Most notably, what to do with JR Smith, whose postseason play and antics likely cost him millions of dollars this off season. Regardless of how the season ended, the Knicks took a giant step forward and have a nice foundation to build off heading into this summer.
For the Pacers, they’ll provide a true test for the defending champs. The key to beating the Heat is to play them physically, limit turnovers and win the battle on the boards. Indiana provides a lot of tough matchups for the Heat and if they can cut down on turnovers, something they had a lot of trouble with against New York, they will give Miami all they can handle.
Should be fun.—Peter Walsh