Pacers hold off Knicks to reach Eastern finals
Lance Stephenson scored a career playoff-high 25 points to lead the Indianapolis Pacers to a 106-99 victory over the New York Knicks and into the NBA Eastern Conference finals.
The Pacers withstood 39 points by Knicks star Carmelo Anthony to win the best-of-seven Eastern Conference second-round series four games to two and will now battle reigning NBA champions Miami for a place in the NBA finals.
The Pacers reached the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since falling in 2004 to Detroit. Last year they fell to the Heat in a bitterly fought six-game second round series.
The Heat, led by NBA Most Valuable Player LeBron James, finished off the injury-hit Chicago Bulls in five games, and will be well-rested when they host the Pacers in game one of the Eastern Conference finals on Wednesday.
New York native Stephenson said he was eager to prove himself after what he considered a sub-par outing in game five, in which the Knicks fended off elimination at Madison Square Garden.
"Last game I felt like I played not to my ability," said Stephenson, who also grabbed 10 rebounds. "I couldn't wait for this game. I was very focused... we took care of business."
Paul George added 23 points for the Pacers. Roy Hibbert scored 21 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and blocked five shots.
Pacers point guard George Hill returned after missing Thursday's game with a concussion sustained in game four. He scored 12 points and handed out five assists in 42 minutes.
Anthony scored 35 points through the first three quarters, but added only four in the fourth period -- he missed his first five shots from the floor in the final frame and had a dunk blocked by Hibbert and committed three turnovers during a decisive 9-0 Pacers run.
"He had shots," Knicks coach Mike Woodson said. "He felt like he got hit on some shots and there was no call. All we can do is put Melo in position to be successful. I thought Melo played a solid game for us."
New York's J.R. Smith, winner of the Sixth Man of the Year award as the league's top reserve, again struggled offensively. He scored 15 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, but connected on just 4-of-15 shots from the floor.
Iman Shumpert scored 19 points in the defeat.
The Knicks were leading 92-90 when Hibbert denied Anthony. Stephenson scored at the other end, then it was Stephenson who converted an Anthony turnover into a layup and was fouled, converting the three-point play.
"I just wanted to be aggressive, just try and penetrate and dish or just try and make it to the basket -- just try and make smart plays," Stephenson said.
Stephenson added two more free throws before David West capped the run with a tip-in that gave the Pacers a 99-92 lead with 2:35 remaining.
New York had erased a 10-point third-quarter deficit with four three-pointers in less than two minutes. Shumpert drained three straight threes before Smith concluded a 12-2 run with a three-pointer to knot the score at 72-72 with 3:10 left in the third.
It was 81-81 going into the fourth quarter, and Smith connected on another three-pointer to put New York up 92-90 before the Pacers launched their game-changing run.