Round Two Preview: A Rivalry Renewed

Man, things are really starting to heat up…

With the Celtics now in the rearview mirror, it’s safe to say, that was more excitement and anxiety than I was expecting out of the Knicks’ first round matchup with Boston. But the green demons that haunt all Knick fans have finally been ousted and placed on the shelf, as we can. For the first time in 13 years, look ahead to the second round, beginning Sunday afternoon at 3:30 est. at Madison Square Garden. Awaiting the Knicks is another old foe, the Indiana Pacers. A team whom New York broke even with at 2 games a piece in the regular season, and this is going to be a VERY interesting series. Knicks’ fans who weren’t too fond of seeing the seasoned rival Celtics that have beaten up on the Knicks the past five years, and notorious villain Paul Pierce for six games, will not feel any friendlier toward Indiana and their relentless style of play, getting under an opponents skin, and long past with New York.

It’s actually been a decade now since the Knicks and Pacers started gaining some momentum in what turned out to be one of the most prevalent enemies of the ‘90s, starting with the 1993 Eastern Conference Finals. Reggie Miller was a Knicks assassin the next seven years. Though only getting past New York one time in 2000, Reggie had created innumerable moments that sealed the Pacers as a legitimate nemesis.

Ok, so if that didn’t get your blood boiling, check your pulse and read on. It’s 10 years later, but we can expect an equally physical matchup up between these two teams. Critics have ping ponged all year between who’s the favorite between the Knicks and Indy. Of course, the Knicks sub-.500 stretch of basketball during their 20-21 stretch lost among the middle of the season factors in, while the Pacers looked as if they were going to settle into number two and maybe even catch Miami. Until the Heat went nuts on their winning streak. Finally, New York was the last team to make their own run in March/April and silenced all the doubters who had orange and blue dead in the water. While Indiana percolated a little with New York, the Knicks winning ways continued as the Pacers dropped a few games, ultimately rewarding the Knicks with the number two seed, and home court advantage starting Sunday.

Home crowds will factor into the series tremendously. There is a blatant animosity on both ends of this relationship, from fans to players. JR Smith and Lance Stephenson will quickly escalate into something interesting; While Carmelo Anthony and Paul George look to lead their ball clubs to the Eastern Conference Finals. As I look at the matchups in this series, the Knicks’ ability to go big or small at their leisure will be an issue for the Pacers.

The Pacers are a slow paced team, matching the ideal playoff-tempo, and New York likes to push, when possible, but still take their fair share of threes, mostly off missed rotations due to catching a defense offset in transition. However, the Indiana-New York regular season sort of put up opposite numbers from how each team prefers to play. The Knicks were outscored 59-29 in fast break points during the regular season, including one game with zero. Roy Hibbert credits this to submitting to New York’s style of play.

“ We haven’t played the best against New York. We play a different style of play, for some reason, when we’re home against New York.”

The Knicks may have to adjust their play in order to defeat Indiana four times. The Pacers are another team who is tough on the perimeter and will bully you all night. I know people are already murmuring Indiana is going to stomp us inside, but Indiana has actually allowed teams to shoot 52% this year from five feet or closer. It’s more on the offensive end where they are 56% on average. This series is definitely open the door for Marcus Camby and Amar’e Stoudemire. It is going to be very difficult to keep Tyson Chandler and Kenyon Martin out of foul trouble against a plethora of tough interior defenders. Tyler Hansbrough even goes by the nickname of Crazy T. Well; we’ll see how crazy he is when he has to matchup with crazy K.

Joking aside, Camby had a few warm up minutes against the Celts, I feel this series is the reason Marcus was coveted as a big pick up for New York this last offseason. He should be a perfect compliment when Tyson has to come out. As for Stoudemire…

Let’s hope that doesn’t continue to be an issue when he returns. His post scoring, though, will be a boost. Mike Woodson is now pointing at game three to be Amar’e’s return date. And if Novak is still out for a game or two, the question remains if Chris Copeland will see the floor anytime soon.

Chris Copeland dropped 20 points in the final meeting of the regular season against Indiana during his April Rookie of the Month campaign, helping the Knicks clinch the two seed. Copeland presents issues for Indiana with a bigger lineup. His quick, basic first step breaks down the Pacers, while his three point shooting spaces the floor.

The emergence of Iman Shumpert against the Celtics was a sight for sore eyes. Shump’s defense dictated bits and pieces of the series, and that’s what the Knicks need to keep this push going. Shumpert will have his hands full with Paul George, but has a chance to change this whole series if he can keep George’s activity level low. Iman averaged 1.8 steals against the Celtics, but showed a significant difference in activity from game three and on.

Carmelo Anthony will be number one on the Pacers hit list. He will be matched up with David West in what is sure to be a physical matchup. Anthony will need to exploit this by running more pick and rolls with Felton. West won’t be comfortable on the perimeter with Anthony, just as Melo will not have fun banging with West on the other end of the ball. But Anthony should be able to roll with the punches as long as his temper stays under control. Anthony is coming into this series second in the playoffs in scoring with 29 points per game.

The Pacers showed at times against Atlanta that they get caught in dry spells when George and Hibbert are taken out of the game. Something the Knicks should look to exploit by trying to go up early in games. This will not be a high scoring series, nor will it be a pretty one. The Knicks are going to have to fight tooth and nail to earn a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals. I don’t know how many games this series goes, but I am confident the Knicks take it. They overcame Boston and learned a great deal about what it takes to win, so they should be all braun and business. 12 more wins Knicks fans.

  • geoAZ

    Steve, I think your observation about Shumpert is prescient and his freshman confidence appears to have emerged on both sides of the ball and his “D” on George could be the defining element of this series. I have another one, how about Felton on West ??? he will get under David as he did Pierce and essentially force Indiana to look inside to him, throwing off their defense. West inside, also clogs up the middle for George drives and allows ‘Melo to guard a less effective Stephenson. It might well take Indiana awhile to figure it out and in the mean time…