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Pacers Have Hill to Climb

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

May 17, 2013, 1:47 AM

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NEW YORK – As the final minute of a troubling game wound down at Madison Square Garden, a New York media member turned to a cohort with disgust.

“You mean we have to go back to Indiana because they can't hit free throws?”

Yes, for starters. Missed foul shots, turnovers, a poorly executed offense, a general malaise and, most of all, the absence of George Hill all combined to send the Knicks grumpy media contingent back to Indianapolis for Game 6 of a playoff series that seemed all but secure for the Pacers until about 4 p.m. Thursday.

Their 85-75 loss not only ruined their opportunity to close out the series in the Pacers' favorite postseason haunt, it cast the series in a vastly different – and darker – light. They not only showed the lack of maturity and poise that had cost them two games in the first-round series with Atlanta, they had to do it without Hill, who watched the game on television in a darkened room in the training area of the locker room.

Hill, who had scored 26 points in the victory at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Tuesday that gave the Pacers a 3-1 lead in the series, reported a headache to the team's physical trainers at the morning shootaround. He was tested in the afternoon, and ruled out because of a concussion before the team left for the game. The injury is believed to have occurred in the first quarter of Tuesday's game, when Hill was knocked to the floor at the foul line by a Tyson Chandler elbow.

Related: Hill's Return Unsettled »

The Pacers still have a 3-2 lead and the opportunity to close out the series Saturday on their home court. That would be a rare moment for a franchise whose greatest playoff moments have come on the road, but it's not as certain as it was pre-concussion. Hill's status will likely be a game-time decision. The Knicks, meanwhile, received an injection of confidence from their victory, largely because of the contribution of rookie Chris Copeland, who scored 13 points and hit 3-of-4 three-pointers.

“We believe,” Carmelo Anthony (28 points) told the national television audience before leaving the court. “We feel confident about this, but we're going to take it one day at a time.

“At this point Xs and Os go out the window. It's about who wants it more.”

The Pacers didn't want it badly enough, and were quick to admit it afterward. Roy Hibbert, who had a sub-par game with nine points and seven rebounds while being limited to 31 minutes because of foul trouble, put it ever so delicately when he compared the Pacers' weak play to a part of the female body in front of a group of reporters.

David West put it another way.

“We didn't step up to this moment,” he said. “You don't get many opportunities to close out a playoff game in Madison Square Garden. We didn't play well enough to complete that task.”

West's right leg was wrapped in an elastic bandage that swirled from above his knee to his foot, which contained ice packs to contain swelling. Hibbert had fallen on it after they collided underneath the Knicks' basket in the fourth quarter, but West finished the game.

“I'll be fine,” he said repeatedly when asked about the injury.

Lance Stephenson also seemed hobbled after falling to the court several times throughout the game, but declared himself to have nothing more than “bumps and bruises.”

The game served to point out the still-developing nature of the Pacers. After displaying so much energy and execution in their previous two games at home, they reverted to the team that had struggled so much on the road throughout most of the season.

They committed 19 turnovers, failing to make even simple passes. Gerald Green, for example, failed to connect on two short passes less than a minute apart early in the fourth period, the first of which set up a Copeland three-pointer. George, despite scoring a game-high 23 points, had four turnovers.

Even more bothersome were the unguarded shots from 15 feet. The Pacers hit just 19-of-33 foul shots, putting up enough misses to have won the game.

“Just guys not concentrating,” said West, who missed half of his six attempts. “We talked this morning, we need every single point. We left too many out there. That's just guys not stepping up to the plate.”

Amid the doubts about Hill's concussion, West's right leg and their general hesitancy to rise to the occasion, the Pacers have some things going for them, home court advantage foremost among them. They are a dramatically better team at Bankers Life, and are 5-0 there in playoff games this year.

They also can take some comfort in the fact they still had a chance to win the game until the final couple of minutes in spite of themselves. They trailed 75-71 after George's three-point shot with 6:42 left, but Anthony hit a well-defended step-back jumper over Sam Young and George followed with a jump shot that failed to hit the rim. After a timeout, Anthony hit two free throws following Hibbert's fifth foul and Raymond Felton got a layup out of the Knicks' halfcourt offense following Stephenson's turnover.

And so it's back to Indianapolis, where the Pacers hope to regain their health, their mojo and their shooting touch. It will, however, be the most pressure-packed game most of them have ever played, the greatest gut-check of the season.

“Just because we're going home, nothing's guaranteed,” George said. “We have to approach Game 6 like it's a desperation game.”

Because that's exactly what it is.

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