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NBA: Pacers advance to Conference Finals

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Kenyon Martin boxes out the Pacers’ Roy Hibbert while Pablo Prigioni looks on.

The Indiana Pacers got seven unanswered points by Lance Stephenson in the fourth to put the needed distance between them and the New York Knicks to move on to the NBA Eastern Conference Finals. The Pacers got a career-high performance from Stephenson to help Indiana defeat the Knicks despite 39 from Carmelo Anthony. The win sends Indiana into the Eastern Conference finals against defending champion Miami Heat, with their best-of-seven series starting on Wednesday in Miami. Game 2 will also be in Miami on Friday, Games 3 and 4 will shift to Indianapolis the following Sunday and Tuesday. The trip to the finals

It’s believable but it’s unbelievable. He’s got no playoff experience whatsoever but he has some of the best basketball instincts I’ve ever been around … the kid’s got a lot of guts.
— Indiana coach Frank Vogel on Stephenson

Stephenson got the game started with a lay-up, which was countered by Iman Shumpert’s first triple of the game. Paul George knocked down a three-ball and George Hill followed-up with a three of his own to mark his return to the line-up for the Pacers following sitting out Game 5 with due to a concussion suffered in Game 4. Pablo Prigioni sank a pair of long-balls for the Knicks and Anthony tallied 12 points during the frame. By the time the quarter was over Stephenson scored nine and Hill sank eight, as the Pacers took a 29:27 lead into Q2.

Two new shooters opened the second as D.J. Augustin scored Indiana’s first points with a triple and Chris Copeland hit a three-ball for the Knicks. After Roy Hibbert dropped in a jumper for the Pacers and Amar’e Stoudemire tallied two in the paint for the guests, Indiana ran off six straight to get up 40:34. After exchanging baskets for four minutes the Pacers again got six unanswered to build a 10-point lead, 52:42. Anthony and Kenyon Martin dropped in five to close out the Knicks scoring and pull them to within five, but Stephenson hit a fadeaway with 5.9 seconds to play in the half and was fouled by Prigioni. Stephenson sank the freebie to complete the three-point play and push the Pacer advantage to eight as the clubs retired to their dressing rooms for the mid-game break with the score 55:47. Anthony scored 20 in the first quarter, with Stephenson dropping in 16.

Anthony hit the Knicks first four around a Hibbert dunk, then the Pacers went on yet another run, this time netting 8, with an Anthony jumper in the process, giving the hosts a 12-point lead, 65:53. The Knicks mounted a comeback at that point with Anthony’s triple getting it started. Shortly after Shumpert found his range and sank two three-balls, followed by J.R. Smith’s jumper from behind the line to knot the score at 72. Shumpert knocked down a pair of singles, then hit a pull-up triple in transition to tally his 19th point of the game with 48.1 seconds left in the third 12. Anthony got his 35th of the contest with a drive down the lane for a deuce with 11 seconds to play, but George split the New York defense and dropped in a lay-up with 0.2 on the clock to wrap up the third with the score even at 81. The deuce was George’s 19th point of the game.

Hill gave Indiana their first points of the final frame, but Copeland hit a pair of long-balls to give the Knicks the lead. Mid-way through the last frame Smith hit a triple to give New York a 90:92 advantage. On the next trip down the court Anthony got the ball on the right box and went up for a one-handed dunk, but was rejected by Hibbert by purely over powering Anthony. The play seemed to turn the momentum in favor of the Pacers as Stephenson took control and scored the next seven points of the contest, followed by a tip-in by West to give Indiana a seven-point margin with two and a half minutes to play. New York got within four twice, but Hill hit two pair of free throws down the stretch to keep the Knicks at bay and ice the contest for Indiana, sending them to the Conference Finals.

It’s tough to go out this way. We did it in spurts but they were still the aggressors tonight. We had our chances, came back to take the lead, but didn’t get it done down the home stretch.
— Knicks coach Mike Woodson

All five of Indiana’s starters scored in double figures, with only eight points coming off the bench. Stephenson led the way for the Pacers with 25 points and 10 rebounds, George added 23 points, Hibbert tallied a 21P/12R double/double, West scored 17, and Hill added 12.

New York got 39 points and 7 rebounds from Anthony, 19 from Shumpert, and a 15P/10R double/double from Smith.

I couldn’t wait for this game. I couldn’t sleep last night. I was very focused tonight and it showed. I wanted to be aggressive, take it to the basket and make smart plays.”
— Lance Stephenson

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