LOS ANGELES: The Indiana Pacers clinched the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference with a 102-90 victory over New York on Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila), avoiding a daunting opening postseason with Cleveland.
The Pacers win, coupled with the Miami Heat’s 99-93 victory at Detroit, means Indiana will now play second seeded Toronto in the first round of the playoffs.
Detroit, who squeezed into the postseason at the expense of the Chicago Bulls, will face LeBron James and the Cavaliers.
Indiana recovered from a first-quarter blitz that saw New York score 36 points.
Nineteen points each from Paul George and George Hill anchored the Indiana effort as the Pacers wrapped up a 26-15 record at home during the regular season, 44-37 overall.
“Teams hit their stride at different times in the season, and we were hoping to enter the playoffs with some momentum,” said Indiana coach Frank Vogel, whose team travels to Milwaukee on Wednesday for their final game.
“We got a great game tonight from George Hill, who we ask to play his game and be aggressive. He does whatever he is asked.”
New York’s Derrick Williams was the top scorer for the Knicks with 21 points, while Jerian Grant chipped in with 18 and Arron Afflalo 13. The Knicks finished the season with a 32-50 record.
“The Knicks came out hot and negated what we were trying to do, but then our defensive pressure got better, and we were able to get control of the game defensively,” George said. “In the second half, we got some stops and got some easy opportunities, a lot of transition plays.”
Knicks coach Kurt Rambis bemoaned his team’s failure to blunt the Pacers attack.
“They were allowed to penetrate, and that created confusion in our defense and allowed them to get open scoring opportunities,” Rambis said.
“Paul George got himself going, and a lot of that had to do with our execution.”
Meanwhile in Michigan, the Pistons tumbled to defeat as Miami improved their chances of securing home-court advantage for the opening round of the playoffs.
Luol Deng scored 17 points and had 10 rebounds while Goran Dragic finished with 16 points for the Heat (48-33). Hassan Whiteside weighed in with 14 points and nine rebounds while Dwyane Wade chipped in 14 points.
Heat rookie forward Justise Winslow was missing after suffering an ankle sprain.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was Detroit’s highest scorer with 17 points. Marcus Morris added 16 points and nine rebounds.
Elsewhere Tuesday, San Antonio scored a 102-98 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder, with Kawhi Leonard scoring 26 points, to snap a three-game losing streak.
Leonard drained a jumper with 49 seconds left in the extra period to put the Spurs 100-98 ahead before Tony Parker added two free throws with 12 seconds to go.
The win saw the Spurs tie the 1985-86 Boston Celtics for most home victories in a single season in NBA history (40).
“We started the game with not much energy and were a little bit sluggish,” Leonard said.
“We had some breakdowns on defense, but we got better and got some things going on offense. We had to be more assertive to get back in the game. We would always like to be better, and we just have to continue to improve.”
Parker finished with 20 points for the Spurs in his best scoring performance in more than a month. Tim Duncan scored 12 points and grabbed a team-high nine rebounds.
San Antonio’s 66 wins is also a new franchise single-season record. The Spurs had already secured the second seeding in the Western Conference and complete their campaign on Wednesday against Dallas.
The Thunder, who rested stars Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, will be seeded third in the Western Conference in the playoffs.