Pacers, Bulls grab playoff spots, Heat come up short

 13 Apr 2017 - 16:49

Pacers, Bulls grab playoff spots, Heat come up short
Apr 12, 2017; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers forward Paul George (13) is guarded by Atlanta Hawks guard Malcolm Delaney (5) at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Indiana defeats Atlanta 104-86. Brian Spurlock

AFP

Los Angeles: Paul George delivered 32 points and 11 rebounds as the Indiana Pacers punched their ticket to the NBA postseason Wednesday with a 104-86 victory over the Atlanta Hawks.

Jeff Teague added 19 points and seven assists before twisting his left ankle and leaving the game in the fourth quarter as the Pacers grabbed the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference on the final day of the 2016-17 regular season.

Indiana will open the postseason against the Cleveland Cavaliers, who lost the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference to the Boston Celtics after the Cavs' defeat by the Toronto Raptors 98-83.

"I'm excited about the opportunity," said George, who made 12 of 21 field goal attempts against the Hawks. "I guess that's because we're doing everything right.

"When our back is against the wall, we figure things out," he added. "It just showed the character of this team, that we knew all along that we should have been a playoff team. We just had to figure out how to play the right way." 

Boston beat the Milwaukee Bucks 112-94 to help relegate Cleveland to the second seed and solidify home court advantage through the first three rounds of the playoffs.

The Golden State Warriors are the top seed in the Western Conference and will host game one of a best-of-seven series Sunday against the Portland Trail Blazers. 

Having clinched the No. 5 spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs with a Tuesday night victory against Charlotte, Atlanta sat guard Kent Bazemore, guard Tim Hardaway, forward Paul Millsap and guard Dennis Schroder against Indiana.

Atlanta will begin the playoffs against the fourth-seeded Washington Wizards.

The other missing playoff component heading into Wednesday's final games was who would get the fourth seed in the West.

Both the Utah Jazz and the Los Angeles Clippers won on Wednesday, but the Clippers claimed home court advantage in their first round series based on their head-to-head tiebreaker over the Jazz.

Indiana steadily pulled away Wednesday to qualify for the playoffs for a second consecutive season and the 22nd time in the past 28 seasons. Myles Turner added 18 points and eight rebounds for Indiana, which finished the regular season with five consecutive wins.

The Hawks were led by Ersan Ilyasova's 15 points. Jose Calderon added 12 and Taurean Prince scored 11.

The Pacers got a 14-point third quarter from Teague and made 11 of 17 field goal attempts during a crucial scoring run as they stretched a seven-point halftime lead to an 84-68 lead at the end of the third quarter.

Bulls clinch 

Elsewhere, Jimmy Butler scored a team-high 25 points and the Chicago Bulls clinched a playoff berth with a 112-73 victory over the hapless Brooklyn Nets.

"We all did our job to get us into the playoffs," Butler said. "Now it's about winning some games. We've just got to stick together and focus on ourselves." 

Rookie forward Paul Zipser added a career-high 21 points off the bench. Chicago claimed the eighth and final seed in the East and will meet the mighty Celtics in the first round.

Guard Archie Goodwin scored 20 points to lead the Nets. Brooklyn dropped to 20-62 on the season and finished with the worst record in the NBA and the fourth-most losses in franchise history.

Chicago shot 43 percent from the field and 47 percent from beyond the arc.

The Bulls finished the regular season with an impressive 25-16 record at home. But it's a different picture when they go on the road, where they have just 16 wins and 25 losses.

However, that doesn't worry veteran Dwyane Wade, who is just happy to be in another playoff.

"As a player, 14 years, I think I've been in 12 playoffs," Wade said. "This is what I play for. This is what I enjoy. You always want to play your best when the lights are the brightest." 

Meanwhile in Miami, Goran Dragic scored 28 points and the Miami Heat fell short of reaching the playoffs despite a 110-102 victory over the Washington Wizards.

Miami (41-41) became the first team in league history to finish .500 or above after being at least 12 games below .500. Miami reversed an 11-30 record the first half of the season with a 30-11 finish.