The Indiana Pacers withstood Carmelo Anthony and a 3-point barrage by the Knicks in the second half to advance to their first Eastern Conference final in nine years.
The Brooklyn-native Stephenson netted a career-high 25 points to go with 10 rebounds and Paul George added 23 points in the Pacers’ 106-99 win over the Knicks in Game 6 of this Eastern Conference semifinal.
Stephenson, who was 9-of-13 from the field, poured in nine of those points during a game-changing 11-2 run in the fourth quarter.
Roy Hibbert tallied 21 points, 12 boards and five blocks for Indiana, which is off to its first conference finals since losing to the Detroit Pistons in 2004.
The NBA’s top rebounding team during the regular season held a 43-36 edge on the boards and outrebounded the Knicks by a 274-218 margin in the series.
Indiana, which moved to 6-0 at home during the postseason, held a commanding 52-20 points in the paint advantage.
The Miami Heat, who downed the Chicago Bulls in the other Eastern Conference semifinal and the Pacers in the semifinals last season, will host Game 1 of the East finals on Wednesday.
Anthony scored 35 points through the first three quarters and finished with 39, but again struggled in the final frame. He missed his first five shots from the floor and committed three crucial turnovers in the quarter.
J.R. Smith had a frustrating time offensively for the duration of the set. The NBA Sixth Man of the Year had 15 points and 10 rebounds, but was just 4-of-15 shooting and 26-of-90 from the floor during the series.
Iman Shumpert recorded 19 points in defeat.
New York, which lived and died by the 3-pointer during the regular season and set an NBA record with 10.9 makes per game, used the arc to get back into the contest late in the third.
A Hibbert jump shot gave Indiana a 10-point edge before the Knicks nailed four triples in a span of 1:47 to erase that deficit. Shumpert sunk three straight threes before Smith concluded a 12-2 run with a trey from the right wing and knot the contest at 72-72 with 3:10 to go in the frame.
An Anthony layup made it 81-79 and gave New York its first edge since it was 3-2 with 11 ticks to go in the stanza. George’s driving finger roll layup just before the buzzer tied it at 81-81 heading into the fourth.
Smith’s triple gave the Knicks a 92-90 margin with 5:43 remaining before Indiana went on its game-altering surge.
After Hibbert blocked Anthony clean at the rim on his one-handed dunk attempt along the right baseline, Stephenson drove in for a layup at the other end. He then converted a three-point play and sunk two free throws to provide the first seven points of the swing. West’s tip-in came before Anthony’s short jumper, and another Stephenson layup capped the flurry and gave Indiana a 101-94 lead with 1:53 to play.
Smith’s three-point play cut the gap to four with 1:15 left, but the Knicks never got any closer. Hill made a pair of foul shots before Anthony drove in for a dunk. Hill again made two freebies and Copeland’s missed trey at the other end essentially sealed the outcome.
Indiana established itself in the paint early.
The Pacers took a 29-27 lead after a quarter of play after holding a 12-5 advantage on the glass and 14-2 points in the paint margin. Anthony had 12 points in the opening 12 minutes.
An 8-2 Pacers spurt late in the first half gave the hosts a 52-42 advantage before they took a 55-47 lead into the break.
NOTES: The Pacers shot 50.7 percent (34-of-67) from the floor and held the Knicks to just 40 percent (34-of-84) from the field … New York made all 18 of its free throws … Both teams committed just nine turnovers.