The Indiana Pacers never trailed on Tuesday night and now find themselves within a stone's throw of their first Eastern Conference Finals berth in nine years, while the San Antonio Spurs relied on their veteran experience to regain control over their series.
On a night when Roy Hibbert battled foul trouble and an out-of-rhythm shooting touch, Indiana got double-digit efforts from five other players in its 93-82 Game 4 win over the New York Knicks. The Pacers now have five double-digit wins to show for their five postseason games at home and, more importantly, a commanding 3-1 series lead.
The Spurs surged out to an 11-point lead in the first quarter, gave half of it away in the second, then flirted with perfection over the final 24 minutes of their 109-91 win over the Golden State Warriors. Neither team has been able to post back-to-back victories in the series, but San Antonio now has two chances to find one victory and the return trip to the Western Conference Finals it would carry with it.
As both of these series inch closer to their conclusions, several Tuesday night winners put their teams in prime position, while a number of losers now sit a loss away from wondering where it all went wrong.
Often overshadowed by his towering teammates, a battle-tested George Hill reminded the basketball world that there's more to this Pacers team than just intimidating size and strength.
In the first half, he was equal parts scorer (nine points) and distributor (three assists), helping Indiana open up a sizable 14-point margin after 24 minutes.
A Tyson Chandler dunk at the 2:17 mark of the second quarter trimmed Indiana's lead to nine, but Hill sandwiched a three-point bomb and a layup around a Paul George jumper as part of a 13-4 Pacers run to close the quarter.
After intermission, Hill became a little more selfish, but the results were just as positive. He hit 5-of-7 from the field in the third, pouring in 14 of Indiana's 19 points in the period. He finished with a game-high 26 points on 9-of-14 shooting, his most prolific playoff outing and fourth-highest point total of the entire season.
J.R. Smith recently captured the first Sixth Man of the Year award of his career for his drastic transformation from a quick-triggered jacker to a relentless, methodical attacker.
Then the playoffs rolled around. Then Smith leveled Jason Terry with an elbow to the face in Game 3 of New York's first-round series with the Boston Celtics.
And things have either never been the same, or perhaps have been all too familiar.
He's yet to shoot above 40 percent from the field since his suspension, and Tuesday's 7-of-22 performance was only a continuation of those struggles. The forced threes that the hoops world hoped he had forever removed from his repertoire came back with a vengeance, as he dialed up 10 from distance and converted only three.
He failed to record an assist for the second straight game and earned only three shots from the foul line. Smith knows why his team is now backed up against the ropes:
J.R. Smith: "I take the blame for this whole series."— Frank Isola (@FisolaNYDN) May 15, 2013
As far as finding a way to free them from those close quarters, though, that's apparently still a mystery.
For all of the impactful additions made by the Spurs in recent years, this is still a team that's only going as far as Tony Parker can carry them.
His win-loss splits in this series are staggering.
In the three San Antonio victories, Parker's amassed 28.3 points on 33-of-65 shooting (50.8 percent) from the field and 7.7 assists. In the two losses, he's been held to just 18.5 points on 13-of-34 shooting (38.2 percent) and 3.0 assists.
Game 5 was clearly no exception. Parker led the Spurs with 25 points on 9-of-17 shooting and dished out 10 assists against two turnovers.
He ripped off six straight points to start a 15-0 run in the first quarter to give the Spurs a lead they would never relinquish. When the Warriors had whittled the Spurs' lead to eight midway through the fourth, Parker found Kawhi Leonard for a three then added a layup and a jumper on the next two possessions to provide the proverbial dagger.
Maybe it's a matter of fatigue. This is the first taste of postseason basketball for both Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.
Or maybe health's a factor. Curry tweaked his left ankle in the late stages of Game 3...but, then again, he racked up 22 points in the Warriors' Game 4 win.
Or could the percentages just be catching up to them at the worst possible time?
Whatever the reason, something's clearly amiss with Mark Jackson's marksmen.
For the first time in nearly two months, both Curry (nine points) and Thompson (four) were held to single digits. They connected on just six of their 22 field-goal attempts, misfired on six of seven from deep (all by Curry), and failed to take a single trip to the free-throw line.
But the pair's shooting struggles extend beyond their unsightly showing Tuesday night. Since Curry erupted for 44 points in the series-opening double-overtime loss, he's connected on only 34.8 percent of his shots. Thompson's seen a similar decrease in production, following up his 34-point effort in Game 2 by shooting just 34.1 percent from the field.
The breakout All-Star campaign of Paul George was one of the more enjoyable stories this season, and the fact that it's carried over into the postseason is perhaps the greatest reason the Pacers are still alive and well.
Few players this side of Miami can fill a stat sheet like the third-year man from Fresno State. His 18 points are a bit misleading (he shot 6-of-19 from the field and 1-of-9 from three), but he battled to build the rest of his impressive box score.
He snared a game-high 14 rebounds, helping Indiana to a decisive 54-36 advantage on the glass. With seven assists on the night, he was also the most active set-up man. His defensive efforts are perhaps best seen by Carmelo Anthony's struggles (24 points on 9-of-23 shooting), but he added a pair of steals and a pair of blocks to round out his tenacious performance.
With George struggling from deep, Lance Stephenson made a surprise appearance as a floor spacer. He buried three of his seven long-range looks, nearly half as many makes as he tallied in his first nine playoff games (seven).
He scored 13 points, corralled seven rebounds and helped harass Smith and Iman Shumpert into a combined 7-of-28 shooting night.
Even Sam Young got in on the action, making the most of his six minutes by hitting both of his shots for five points.
At least Amar'e Stoudemire has an excuse. He had logged just nine minutes over the past two months after recovering from his second knee debridement of the season.
But excuses don't carry a lot of weight in the playoffs, not when you're part of an interior group stumbling through a minus-18 night on the glass
Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler and Kenyon Martin saw a combined 42 minutes of work in the first half. The trio managed just nine boards and seven points while racking up nine fouls and a pair of technicals (one each for Chandler and Stoudemire).
They played a collective 80 minutes in the loss, tallying just 16 points on 5-of-14 shooting to go along with 19 rebounds. The Knicks, not surprisingly, suffered a minus-10 margin in points in the paint (36-26) despite Roy Hibbert and David West posting a woeful 5-of-17 shooting line.
Their suffocating efforts on Curry and Thompson alone merit placement on this list. But those were hardly their only contributions in the game.
Kawhi Leonard was active on the scoreboard (17 points) and on the glass (seven rebounds). He was hyper-efficient with his shot selection, going 7-of-8 (3-of-4 behind the arc) from the field.
Danny Green's activity was spread across the box score. He chipped in 16 points (6-of-10), three boards, three dimes, a pair of steals and a swat.
With Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili mired in a rough 8-of-22 shooting night, the Spurs needed a supporting scorer (or two) to complement Parker's big game. Leonard and Green clearly answered the bell, allowing the Spurs to reclaim control of the series.
It's easy to point to New York's dismal three-point performance (8-of-28 in Game 4) as the reason this team has transitioned away from the unselfish style of play that bolstered its 18-5 charge to open the regular season.
But here's the unfortunate truth: It's not that the Knicks shooters are failing to convert their perimeter looks, it's that they're simply being overlooked by their coach in favor of ball-dominant volume scorers.
Anthony and Smith (fifth and seventh, respectively, on the Knicks in three-point shooting) accounted for 16 of New York's long-range attempts, missing 11. Iman Shumpert, battling a nagging knee injury, fired off five more without a single make to show for it.
Jason Kidd, Chris Copeland and Steve Novak (a trio that was held to just 28 minutes by Mike Woodson) buried three of their six perimeter shots. Pablo Prigioni, who has connected on 10 of his 23 three-pointers this postseason, saw less than four minutes of work.
Anthony, Smith and Shumpert deserve some of the criticism surely headed their way after combining for just two assists in more than 88 minutes. But should Woodson have expected any different from this rotation?
When those volume scorers are barely audible (the trio tallied 43 points on 51 field-goal attempts), is there a more glaring way to say that this approach might not be working?
The Spurs' approach to Game 5 was a calculated, methodical one covered with Gregg Popovich's fingerprints.
Mark Jackson's scrappy team had done a serviceable job of taking the Spurs out of rhythm during the first four games of the series. But Tuesday night saw a team-wide effort to frustrate Golden State's defenders with extra pass after extra pass.
The Spurs assisted on 30 of their 40 field goals, compiling an impressive 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio in the process. Pop's top-eight rotation players all had at least one assist to their credit, with six of those players dropping at least three dimes in the contest.
Parker and Ginobili put the Warriors in bad spots with relentless drives to the basket, then spotted the open man when defenders came to help. The plays often could've stopped there with a decent look at the basket, but the recipients kept the offense flowing by targeting the gaps in the Warriors' scrambling defense.
The Spurs are talented enough to win games on the strength of isolation sets, but look like championship contenders when they're committed to sharing the wealth.