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Playoff Path Takes Detour into History

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

May 4, 2013, 1:30 AM

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Talk about a transition game. The Pacers wrapped up their First Round playoff series with Atlanta on Friday, barely escaping a haunted house, but still didn't know where they would be sleeping that night as they hit the locker room door.

The Knicks were similarly engaged in sweating out the final minutes of their closeout game in Boston, and it wasn't until several of the Pacers had showered and attacked the modest buffet line in the locker room that they learned they would be heading to New York to open Round 2 rather than returning to Indianapolis.

Pacers and Knicks, meeting in the Garden, on a Sunday afternoon in May. Seems they've crossed paths there before, haven't they? Who knows what wondrous things might blossom this time?

Photo Gallery: Pacers-Knicks '98-'00 »

“Looks like we have to get our hard hats back on, because we've got a game in less than 48 hours,” George Hill said, as the television monitors above him played out the final seconds of the Knicks' victory over the Celtics.

The Pacers earned the right to make last-minute travel plans with an 81-73 victory over Atlanta that won't go down as one of the franchise's prettiest postseason works of art, but still had plenty of substance. It not only got them to the second round of the playoffs for the second consecutive year, it ended a 13-game losing streak in Philips Arena that dated back to December of 2006 – before any of their active players joined the team.

Strange thing is, history still was on their side for this game.

The Hawks had lost their previous three Game 6s when trailing 3-2, while the Pacers were 3-0 in their NBA history when leading a series 3-2 and playing on the road, defeating Philadelphia and New York in 2000 and Miami in 2004. They also won two of their three ABA titles in Game 6s on the road, at Los Angeles in 1970 and at New York in 1972. For whatever reason, Pacers teams tend to do their best postseason work away from home, with Game 6 being particularly favorable. Perhaps unfortunately for them, if a Game 6 is played against the Knicks, it will have to be played in Indianapolis.

That's looking too far ahead, however. It's all about Sunday at 3:30 p.m. now, when Game 1 arrives. It's coming so quickly that the Pacers barely had time to reflect on the task just completed in Atlanta. They controlled the game from the end of the first quarter until the Hawks made a furious rally in the fourth period. Tyler Hansbrough's three-point play off his own missed foul shot in the final minute of the opening quarter gave the Pacers the lead for good, but they didn't make it easy on themselves.

Photo Gallery: Pacers-Knicks '93-'95 »

The halftime lead was 37-29, as Atlanta scored just nine points in a second quarter that bordered between brutal and comical. Give the Pacers credit for defense, but Atlanta pitched in with shots both ill-advised and inaccurate. They hit just 1-of-15 in the period, which should have been enough bricks to bury themselves beneath, but the Pacers hit just 7-of-22.

The Pacers' lead was 15 after the third quarter, but their offense grew tentative in the fourth. Atlanta got within three points on Al Horford's baseline dunk with 2:41 left, but the Pacers held on. West got a fortunate layup after Roy Hibbert lost control of the ball, then Lance Stephenson deflected the ball from Jeff Teague. The Hawks missed two more three-pointers before the Pacers scored again, by which time it was too late for the Hawks.

Related: Walsh Proud of Two Teams, Loyal to One »

As is usually the case when the Pacers win, their starting lineup spread the burden. Hill scored 21 points, 12 in the third quarter. West scored 21, 10 in the third quarter, when the Pacers hit 11-of-18 shots. Hibbert had 17, 10 in the first half. Lance Stephenson scored eight, tied Hibbert for rebounding honors with 11 and had six assists. Paul George scored just four points, hitting 2-of-10 shots, and took just four shots in the second half, but had seven rebounds and seven assists.

“That's the way the game goes,” George said. “D. West and George Hill, the middle pick and roll and the side pick-and-roll were excellent for us, so we just went with that.”

When it was over, finally over, Hibbert called for his teammates to gather near midcourt before heading to the locker room. The message, he said, was that they had just taken one step in their journey.

With the next one, they step into history.

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