Carmelo Anthony scored 25 points without playing in the fourth quarter and the New York Knicks clinched the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference with a 90-80 triumph over the Indiana Pacers on Sunday at Madison Square Garden.
After suffering a left shoulder contusion late in the third, Anthony sat the rest of the way with the Knicks comfortably in front the entire final frame.
"His shoulder's fine and I was going to put him back but I decided to pull him and ride the guys that kept the lead for us," Knicks head coach Mike Woodson said.
Chris Copeland scored 20, J.R. Smith had 15 and Raymond Felton chipped in 11 for the red-hot Knicks, winners in 15 of their last 16 games. They assured themselves home court advantage through the Eastern Conference semifinals and a first round showdown with the Boston Celtics.
"We have to get some healthy bodies back. As coaches we'll start our preparation when we get back from Charlotte and once we get some healthy bodies back on Thursday, we'll start practicing and see where we are and who can be in the rotation once we start the playoffs," said Woodson.
Lance Stephenson scored a team-high 22 points for the Pacers, who have struggled down the stretch by dropping four of five. However, they clinched the No. 3 seed in the East after Brooklyn fell to Toronto on Sunday.
"Of course we felt we earned it playing throughout the year, but we haven't really earned it as far as getting the win and solidifying it ourselves. That's really how it's been. We're just not taking care of business," Pacers forward Paul George said.
David West finished with 17 points and eight rebounds and Jeff Pendergraph scored 12 off the bench in the setback.
Determined to lock in its playoff seeding, New York outmuscled the Pacers despite missing bigs Tyson Chandler, Kenyon Martin and Marcus Camby, and never trailed after the seven minute mark of the first quarter.
The Knicks' defense harassed the Pacers, forcing them into 26 turnovers, which turned into 33 points for New York.
Anthony, on his way to winning his first league scoring title, buried his first four jumpers and staked New York to an early 9-2 lead. He would, however, make just one of his next 10 attempts.
To compensate, the Knicks got solid lifts out of the supporting cast, especially Copeland, who scored 12 points in the first half and was an efficient 8-for-12 from the field for the game.
The 29-year-old rookie began the second quarter with back-to-back 3-pointers to put New York ahead by double-digits and threes from Iman Shumpert and Steve Novak helped stretch the margin to 20 points at the 7:03 mark.
The Pacers would fight back, using a 16-4 run to cut their deficit to eight on a 3-pointer from Stephenson. He would add another in the final seconds of the period to bring the Pacers within 47-40 at the break.
Roy Hibbert was called for a flagrant foul early in the third when he clocked a driving Shumpert in the face. Shumpert connected on both free throws to push the Knicks edge back up to 12.
Indiana hung around but Jason Kidd made some big plays late in the third to keep the Knicks' margin at double-digits, delivering an alley-oop to Anthony and then setting him up from 3-point range after coming away with a steal.
Anthony had been injured a minute and a half prior to the alley-oop when he was fouled hard underneath by Sam Young. He was seen favoring the shoulder and with the Knicks ahead, 69-60, after three quarters, he sat to start the fourth.
"I just got nicked. I'm good," Anthony said.
Young scored a layup to open the fourth to get the Pacers within seven, but they never came closer. The Knicks buried three 3-pointers in the first 6:20 of the period to seal the outcome, with Smith's creating a safe 15-point margin.
Copeland had his fifth 20-point game of the season ... Indiana's Paul George had nine points on 3-of-12 shooting, but dished out 11 assists ... The Knicks had just 12 turnovers ... Indiana was 8-for-28 from 3-point range.