Indiana Pacers spent the entire season perfecting its defense.
On Saturday, it produced the biggest payoff for the Indiana Pacers in nearly 10 years.
Roy Hibbert’s block of Carmelo Anthony’s dunk attempt midway through 4th quarter spurred an 11-2 run that rallied the Pacers to a 106-99 victory in Game 6 of their 2nd-round series, sending them into their first Eastern Conference last since 2004.
New York native Lance Stephenson scored 9 points in the run, finishing with a playoff career-high 25.
”That’s why they pay me the big bucks this summer, so I have to protect the paint,” said Hibbert, who agreed a $58 million contract last summer. “If all else fails, meaning the offense, I should protect the paint.”
For Indiana, it sets up a postseason rematch with the defending NBA champs, the team that eliminated them last May after the Pacers had taken a 2-1 lead in the best-of-7 semifinals. The Miami Heat wound up winning Game Four at Indiana and followed that with 2 more wins as Danny Granger struggled with a knee injury.
Indiana used the lessons from that series as motivation to improve this season and wound up beating the Heat twice at home before losing the 3rd game of the season series at Miami. Betting lines
With Granger missing all but 5 games this season thanks to the lingering knee injury, the Pacers put an even greater emphasis on playing defense and it showed.
Indiana led the league in rebounding, defensive field goal percentage and defensive 3-point percentage while finishing 2nd in points allowed per game in the regular season. It was no different in the playoffs, as the Knicks found out.
New York had another subpar shooting night Saturday, making just 40 percent of its shots, and again wound up on the wrong side of a 43-36 rebounding discrepancy. In the paint, NY was outscored 52-20, and Anthony, who finished with 39 points, scored just 4 points in the last 12 minutes when he went 2 of 7 from the field.
Iman Shumpert added 19 points, hitting five 3-pointers, and J.R. Smith scored 15. Nobody else was in double figures.
The combination, as it had been in the previous 3 losses to Indiana, produced the same frustrating result.
”They have a hell of a defense. They hold down the paint. They do a good job, do a hell of a job of controlling the paint, closing it down, making it difficult for guys,” Anthony said. ”You’ve got to give them guys’ credit, especially when they were given a chance to set. Roy Hibbert gets to sit in the paint, causes havoc.”
It’s not only that.
The biggest query coming into Saturday’s game was whether starting point guard George Hill would play. He took part in the team’s morning shootaround, was cleared by the team doctors and wound up returning a couple of days after missing Game 5 with a concussion. His return gave the Indiana Pacers a big boost.
Hill finished with just 12 points on 2-of-10 shooting but had 5 rebounds and 4 assists, and kept the Pacers composed enough to commit only 9 turnovers – 10 fewer than Thursday night’s loss in New York.