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Notebook: Born Ready to Rebound?

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

May 6, 2013, 12:30 AM

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Most likely, when Lance Stephenson was a kid growing up in Brooklyn and dreaming of playing NBA games in Madison Square Garden, he didn't imagine himself leading his team in rebounding, of all things. After all, you aren't nicknamed Born Ready because you crash the boards.

That, however, has become a specialty of the 6-5 shooting guard's lately. He's led the Pacers in rebounding over their previous five playoff games, including Sunday's 102-95 victory over New York when he grabbed a game-high and career-high 13. He had 11 in the Game 6 close-out of Atlanta on Friday, and 11, 12, 9 and 8 in the games prior to that. Consider that he had just two double-figure rebounding games during the regular season, and the added impact becomes more apparent.

“Coach (Frank Vogel) told me to crash, and if that’s what I have to do to help the team, that’s what I’m going to do,” Stephenson told the crowd of reporters huddled around his locker.

Related: Agness' Five Takeaways from Game 1 »

Stephenson's rebounding was likely an element of the game the Knicks didn't anticipate. Eleven of his 13 came on the defensive end, and were a major reason they scored just 10 second-chance points. One of his offensive rebounds gave the Pacers their largest lead of the game, when he rebounded Paul George's missed three-pointer and fed D.J. Augustin for a three-pointer that gave the Pacers an 81-65 lead with 31.5 seconds left in the third quarter.

Sunday's game could rank as the most significant of Stephenson's career, given its meaning and location. He scored 11 points, hitting 5-of-9 shots, and had three assists, three steals and just one turnover in 39 minutes in the sort of well-rounded, disciplined performance that nobody could have predicted when he was playing high school games in the Garden four years ago.

Evidence of Stephenson's improving maturity came from his reaction to the preparation Vogel conducted to prepare for the game, in the short window following Friday night's win in Atlanta to close out the first round. It consisted primarily of long video sessions, three hours in all by Stephenson's estimate, highlighted by a two-hour session on Saturday.

“I was tired and I was like, 'Aw I don’t want to look at this,' but if it helps the team and everybody is tuned in, that’s what I’m going to do,” he said.

Augustin surprises

If the Knicks weren't expecting Stephenson's rebounding, they likely were shocked by Augustin's 16 points in 13 minutes off the bench. Augustin, who averaged 4.5 points during the regular season, hit 5-of-6 shots, including 4-of-5 three-pointers.

He led the Pacers back from a seven-point second-quarter deficit by hitting two three-pointers, and added another to close out the third period with a 16-point lead.

“I just wanted to come in and play hard,” Augustin said. “That's all we're all trying to do now; it's the second round of the playoffs.”

Augustin shows little emotion, on the court or in the locker room. But he claimed to be stimulated by the opportunity to participate in a playoff game in Madison Square Garden. His previous playoff experience consisted of four games with Charlotte in 2010, when he hit 5-of-17 shots.

“How could you not?” he said. “It's the Garden, and there's a lot of history. It's exciting.”

Augustin fits the mold of “true point guard” because of his ability to penetrate and create opportunities for teammates, and that was the primary reason the Pacers gave him a one-year contract last summer. His scoring is somewhat a bonus, but he has the green light to shoot as far as his teammates are concerned. They call him “mini-Novak” in reference to New York's three-point specialist Steve Novak.

“We get mad at D.J. all the time when he passes up shots,” George Hill said.

“Him just getting more minutes and different looks and rotations have been big. I'm glad for him. I've been telling him even when he only has 10 minutes in the game to try to get 10 shots, because he's that good of a shooter. Anytime you leave him open, he's a threat.”

Physical or not?

Carmelo Anthony led the Knicks with 27 points Sunday, but needed 28 shots to get them. Some of his teammates thought the Pacers played him physically, perhaps even targeting his injured left shoulder.

“They are banging him, hitting him,” Knicks guard Raymond Felton said. “They are going at his shoulder.”

Anthony, however, had no complaints.

“I don't think it was physical out there today,” he said. “They outworked us. I've been in more physical games than this one. The physicality of the game didn't do anything to us. They beat us to the glass, beat us to the loose balls and hustle plays and they outworked us.”

Anthony has led the Knicks in scoring in all seven of their playoff games this season, pointing out a potential Pacers advantage: Balanced scoring.

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