Toppin headed to Eastern Conference finals for first time

Former Dayton star playing key role off bench for Pacers

Obi Toppin never experienced a postseason victory in two seasons with the Dayton Flyers.

In his first season on the court, in 2019, the Flyers lost to Saint Louis in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament and then fell at Colorado in the first round of the NIT. A year later, in the season that saw him win all the major national player of the year awards, the pandemic robbed Dayton of the chance to play a single postseason game.

Four years after that crushing disappointment, Toppin has played a key role off the bench for the Indiana Pacers, who will play in the Eastern Conference finals for the first time in 10 years.

Toppin’s new team beat his old team, the New York Knicks, 130-109 on Sunday in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

“Everybody came out and did what they had to do to get these wins,” Toppin told reporters in New York. “We didn’t start the way we wanted to with two losses here, but we take it how we can.”

The home team won the first six games in the series. The Pacers broke that streak with a victory at Madison Square Garden in Toppin’s hometown. Toppin made 1 of 4 shots Sunday. He had three points, four assists and three rebounds in 15 minutes.

The Pacers set a NBA Playoffs record by shooting 67.1% (53 of 79) from the field.

“I think it was just a feel thing,” Toppin said. “We came off a good game in Indy. We were desperate. We knew what we had to do in Game 7 coming into this type of environment. Everyone did their job.”

The Pacers will play Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Boston Celtics on the road Tuesday.

After Game 7 on Sunday, in the locker room, a reporter tried to get Toppin to comment on the feeling of beating the team that drafted him No. 8 overall in 2020, but his response was, “I’m more excited about going to play four more games in the Eastern Conference finals.”

Toppin averaged 9.9 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists in 18.7 minutes in the series. In the previous series against the Milwaukee Bucks, Toppin averaged 12.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.0 assists in 19.8 minutes. The Pacers won that series in six games.

Toppin averaged a career-best 10.3 points and 3.8 rebounds in his first season with the Pacers after three seasons with the Knicks.

The Pacers led the Knicks by as many as 22 points in the first half in Game 7 but saw the lead dwindle to six in the third quarter. They put the game away with a 9-0 run late in the third quarter. Toppin scored the final point in that spurt with a free throw.

“Our big thing is staying together as a team,” Toppin said. “We understand it’s a game of runs. Teams are going to go on their runs. Being in an environment like this, when they go on their runs, it’s going to get crazy in here. Everybody had to stay together in the huddle.”

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