Indiana moved into the NBA Eastern Conference finals with a 106-99 win over the New York Knicks on Saturday, with a Roy Hibbert block sparking a late 11-2 run that sealed a 4-2 series victory.
Hibbert’s block on Carmelo Anthony midway through the fourth quarter shifted the momentum of the game, with Lewis Stevenson the prime beneficiary, scoring nine of his 23 points during the run.
“That’s why they pay me the big bucks this summer, so I have to protect the paint,” said Hibbert, who signed a $58 million contract last summer.
“If all else fails, meaning the offence, I have to protect the paint.”
Next up is a rematch with Miami, the team that eliminated Indiana last season. Game 1 will be Wednesday at Miami.
Carmelo Anthony scored 39 points and Iman Shumpert had 19 for New York, who had another poor shooting night.
The Knicks made just 40 per cent of their shots, and again wound up on the wrong side of a 43-36 rebounding discrepancy. In the paint, New York were outscored 52-20, and Anthony scored just four points in the final 12 minutes when he went 2 of 7 from the field.
“They have a hell of a defence,” Anthony said.
“They do a hell of a job of controlling the paint, closing it down, making it tough for guys.
“You’ve got to give them guys credit, especially when they got a chance to set. Roy Hibbert gets to sit in the paint, causes havoc.”
Guard George Hill returned after missing Game 5 with concussion, and he gave the Pacers a big boost.
Hill finished with just 12 points on 2-of-10 shooting but had five rebounds and four assists, and kept the Pacers composed enough to commit only nine turnovers – 10 fewer than Thursday night’s loss in New York. The results showed up everywhere on the floor.
Paul George had 23 points, five rebounds and four assists. David West added 17 points, five rebounds and four assists, and Hibbert finished with 21 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks, none bigger than the stuff on Anthony that changed the game. Stephenson had 10 rebounds and three assists in his best postseason game ever.
The reason: He wanted to avoid a trip home.
“I just didn’t want to go back to New York and play Game 7,” Stephenson said.
“Just get it done with now and I’d do whatever it takes to do that today. It showed tonight.”
The New York native made sure of it.
After George grabbed the rebound off of Hibbert’s block, Stephenson took a pass from West and scored on a layup to tie the score at 92 with 4:51 left in the game.
Stephenson followed that with a steal and drove in for a layup, drawing a foul and completing a three-point play. After grabbing another rebound and making two more free throws, West tipped in a miss and Stephenson closed the decisive spurt with another layup. Suddenly, the Pacers led 101-94 with 1:53 to go.
New York never got another chance to tie the score or take the lead again despite making a far more typical 13 of 30 from 3-point range.
“It’s tough to go out this way,” coach Mike Woodson said.
“I didn’t make it happen for us and that’s what’s disappointing.”
The Pacers have a far different goal now as they get ready to face LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Miami.
“We’re not satisfied with where we’re at,” coach Frank Vogel said.
“We feel like there’s no ceiling on this team this year.”