When the Knicks play like the Pacers, the Pacers win
In a single, 102-95 loss to the Indiana Pacers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, the Knicks gave away the home court advantage they worked so hard for.
They struggled on offense most of the afternoon, with their two primary scorers, Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith, shooting a combined 14-for-43.
Tyson Chandler was utterly outplayed by Pacers center Roy Hibbert, and the Knicks were generally outhustled, by coach Mike Woodson's own estimation.
"I thought they played harder than our team tonight," Woodson said at his post-game press conference. "That was the difference."
Or maybe that's putting things a little too kindly for the Knicks.
The Pacers outrebounded the Knicks, 44-30. But back on April 14, the Knicks comfortably beat the Pacers, 90-80, while the Pacers outrebounded the Knicks, 45-32.
Really, for the Knicks to beat the Pacers, they aren't going to do things like compete on the boards with the league's best rebounding team. The Knicks need to do the things that allowed them to storm to an 18-2 finish. And that means limiting turnovers and getting Anthony and Smith chances to attack the basket.
Also, related: they need to be launching three-point attempts. The more threes they take, the more spread-out the Indiana defense will need to be as a result. In the Knicks' two wins over the Pacers this year, they took 31 and 25 three-pointers, but made only 11 of 31 (35 percent) and seven of 25 (28 percent). On Sunday, the Knicks made a higher percentage, but that meant just seven of 19 three-pointers.
"What's crucial for us is to be able to limit attempts," Pacers forward David West said at his post-game press conference. "As opposed to guys shooting and getting contested shots. We try and cut down on attempts. Even if a guy's a step inside the three-point line. That's what our defense is built on."
There's a chicken-and-egg aspect to this part of the offense and how it affects what Anthony and Smith are doing. The two Knicks' scorers are most effective going to the basket, but an Indiana team without fear of the three was able to pack the late with Hibbert and David West, making those forays to the hoop less effective.
Anthony and Smith made every attempt to loosen up that lane in the fourth quarter, combining to take 11 free throws and scoring 26 points in a 30-point quarter that brought the Knicks back from 16 down to as close as six. It is exactly the strategy Boston used against the Knicks, but to no avail over a pair of late-season losses and in falling behind the Knicks, 3-0. It is possible when either Anthony or Smith stop attacking. It is useless when they both are hoop-bound.
"Still relying on my jumper too much," Smith said after the game, speaking to reporters at his locker, of his first three quarters, when he shot 1-for-10 from the field. "I've got to be pushing and pushing and pushing, don't beat myself mentally."
As for the turnovers, this is where the Knicks can make up for a rebounding deficit. The primary reason a rebounding edge is so vital for the Pacers, or any team, is the extra shots it produces. A turnover edge can mitigate that edge, or even reverse it. In that April win by the Knicks over the Pacers, despite a 45-32 Indiana rebounding edge, the Knicks took 82 shots to 65 for the Pacers. The reason? 26 turnovers for the Pacers, 11 for the Knicks. And back in November, the Pacers edged the Knicks in rebounding, 48-47. The Knicks took 90 shots to Indiana's 71, thanks to 19 Indiana turnovers, and just eight by the Knicks.
Still, Woodson attempted to match the Pacers' size by playing a lineup of Kenyon Martin and Tyson Chandler. The offense stagnated, and the rebounding didn't really change.
After it was over, Woodson sounded like a coach who would return to a Martin/Chandler lineup, even as it pushes Anthony out of his optimal power forward slot and limits the Knicks offense generally.
"I don't think we gained a lot," Woodson said of his big configuration. "From a defensive standpoint, we weren't bad, but we didn't get much out of the offense. We've got to put some sets in, come tomorrow, that's gonna help them when they're out on the floor playing together. Because we hadn't played a lot of minutes with our two bigs like that."
Hopefully, Woodson will take a look at the game film and see that what worked was his fourth-quarter configuration, and how the Knicks will win Game 2 and make this a competitive series will be by playing the kind of basketball that made them the two seed, not the kind that forces them into a pale imitation of the Indiana Pacers.
Elsewhere in New York sports:
An ugly Jon Niese start and some defensive lapses meant a 9-4 loss to the Braves Sunday.