Weekend NBA action brings playoff picture into greater focus

Over the weekend, Indiana earned its first trip to the Eastern Conference final since 2004, while the Spurs schooled Memphis in Game 1 of their Western Conference final.

By , Contributor

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    San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker (c.) drives the lane on Memphis Grizzlies forward Austin Daye (l.) and guard Tony Allen during the second half of Game 1 of their NBA Western Conference final playoff basketball game in San Antonio, Texas May 19, 2013.
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Pacers eliminate Knicks to advance to conference final

On Saturday night, the Indiana Pacers’ Lance Stephenson had 23 points and 10 rebounds to pace his team to a 106-99 victory over the New York Knicks and secure their first trip to the Eastern Conference final since 2004, four games to two. The Pacers will now face the Miami Heat in Miami on Wednesday night, from whom Indiana took two out of three games during the regular season.

The Pacers had a lift in morale, as well as the score, with 12 points from George Hill, who returned triumphantly to the lineup after having been injured earlier last week – courtesy of an elbow from the Knicks’ Tyson Chandler.

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Indiana out-rebounded the Knicks, 43-36, and used that advantage to significant effect by outscoring New York, 52-20, in the paint. The Pacers also managed to get to the free throw line 46 times (making 34 shots) as opposed to only 18 trips to the charity stripe for the Knicks (where they were a perfect 18-18). This development was enabled by the Knicks committing over twice as many fouls as Indiana.

All five Pacers starters finished in double figures, with Stephenson and Hill being joined by Paul George (23 points), David West (17 points) and Roy Hibbert’s 21.

The Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony had a phenomenal game, scoring 39 points, and J.R. Smith had a double-double, with 15 points and 10 boards. But foul trouble hobbled the Knicks in the closing period. Iman Shumpert, who with 3 three-pointers in the third period, spearheaded a three-point barrage together with teammates Smith and Chris Copeland (and tying the score at 72 in the third quarter), fouled out after 25 minutes on the court. This also was the case with the disappointing Chandler, who exited with 6 fouls after only 2 points and 6 rebounds on the night and Kenyon Martin, who had more fouls (6) than points (5) in 21 minutes on the floor. Raymond Felton punctuated this disappointment for New York, missing all seven of his shots. His drives inside were invaluable in the Knicks’ two series victories, and his non-production was a major factor in this game.

In the third quarter, the turning point for the Pacers had to have been the monster block of a one-handed slam by Carmelo Anthony by Roy Hibbert, which in turn was converted by Lance Stephenson’s layup at the other end of the floor. The Knicks were never really the same after that. In fact, shortly afterward, the energized Pacers had two more coast-to-coast layups by Stephenson, a tip-in by David West and timely free-throws to secure the Pacers the lead again for good.

Turning the ball over 10 fewer times than they did the previous game was critical for Indiana, which as much as any other factor proved them to be tighter, faster, more aggressive and more opportunistic on the evening. When asked afterward how this Indiana playoff team was different from last year’s squad that lost in the early rounds to Miami, Roy Hibbert responded that the addition of David West was a key component – that he “changed the culture” of the team – in making them more focused, resolute and resilient throughout the year. This complemented Lance Stephenson’s inspired play, which prompted Pacers head coach Frank Vogel to say “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.” 

San Antonio takes first game in impressive fashion.

Much of the early analysis of the Memphis Grizzlies and San Antonio Spurs’ Western Conference Series centered on Memphis’ No. 1 NBA defense versus San Antonio’s veteran-fueled, pummeling offense. In Sunday night’s game at San Antonio’s AT&T Center, the Grizzlies’ typical grinding game wilted in the face of an overwhelming San Antonio offensive barrage – led by Tony Parker’s 20 points – as the Spurs won Game 1 decisively, 105-83.

Memphis wasn’t really in this game from the very start. The Spurs scored on their first seven possessions en route to a massive 17-point first quarter advantage, wherein the Grizzlies didn’t have a single rebound for over 6 minutes. Particularly disappointing was the Grizzlies’ Zach Randolph, who after scoring 28 points in powering the Grizzlies to their first-ever final in the previous series with the Golden State Warriors, scored only 2 points on 1-8 shooting in this contest.

The Spurs, even as they continued to get good overall production from their starters, had some pleasant surprises from their bench, including 3-point specialist Matt Bonner, who had 4 trés for 12 points on the night, and Gary Neal, who added 11 with 5-of-8 shooting. In fact, San Antonio as a whole shot very effectively from the perimeter, hitting for 48% of its three-pointers and 53% of its field goals as a team. This was due in large part to San Antonio spreading the floor on offense, drawing in Memphis’ perimeter defense and kicking back out to the arc for monotonously open threes - Kawhi Leonard going 4-for-5, Matt Bonner 4-for-6 and Danny Green 3-for-6 from three-point land, which was enabled greatly by 28 Spurs assists, including Parker’s 9.

San Antonio’s big men, Tim Duncan, Boris Diaw and Tiago Splitter, helped limit the Grizzlies’ Randolph and Marc Gasol to 17 total points and keep them out of their offensive rhythm all evening. Memphis guard Mike Conley added 14 points, but also made 4 turnovers – including a momentum-killing steal and score by Tony Parker in the first period. Quentin Pondexter had a very solid game off the bench with 17 points.

For the Spurs, Parker’s prolific scoring was complemented by Kawhi Leonard’s 18 points, while Danny Green added 16 – largely through his three-point prowess and 6 of 9 shooting overall. Memphis, for their part, hit only 5 of 12 threes, while San Antonio as a team shot an opportunistic 14 of 29. But when the game got tight in the later frames, the Spurs sent in the multi-faceted Manu Ginobili, who, like a whirling dervish, ignited scoring runs that got the Spurs out of reach – including an important 11-1 spree with three minutes left in the third quarter. His assists, lane drives and a well-timed three were crucial in helping make San Antonio’s eventual 14-plus point lead insurmountable.

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