An anemic offensive performance by the New York Knicks, coupled with a supreme defensive effort by the Indiana Pacers gave Indiana a controlling 2-1 series lead with a Game 4 still to be played on their home court. For most of the game, the Knicks and Pacers dangled in a middle ground, the score close enough for New York to make a run and make it competitive, the Pacers nearing blowout territory. However, neither ever really materialized. New York was able to grind out possessions, occasionally forcing turnovers or getting stops, and occasionally able to put in consecutive buckets. (As obvious from the score, the Knicks didn’t put together many strings of consecutive baskets). However, when the Knicks got within striking distance, it seemed the Pacers had an answer every time.
The first quarter more or less set the standard for the game. The Pacers came swingin’ out of their corner, knocking down open threes on slow rotations from the Knicks to quickly take a 9-2 lead. New York responded, however, with some fight from Tyson Chandler underneath the basket, and the smoothest offensive attack we’ve seen from Carmelo Anthony, other than that fourth quarter explosion in Game 2. ‘Melo forced his way inside for fouls, or otherwise bullied Paul George to the basket for some short jumpers. Around the halfway point, though, both offenses fell off a cliff, forcing the defenses to take center stage like these were the Knicks-Pacers playoff battles of the ’90s yesteryear.
The Pacers struggled to score baskets as they are wont to do; part of that credit goes to intensified Knicks’ defense. On the other end, New York’s offensive struggles were pushed along by a terribly inefficient grouping of Jason Kidd, J.R. Smith, Carmelo Anthony, Kenyon Martin, and Tyson Chandler. The big lineup clustered the floor, especially with Smith and Kidd’s inability to flip a coin into a fountain. With 4:20 remaining in the quarter, Chandler converted a layup. From then on, the Knicks didn’t score until Anthony hit a jumper with 20 seconds remaining. They trailed Indiana 15-18 after one.
The second quarter was highlight by New York turnovers and an immense struggle on the boards. Amar’e Stoudemire played for the first time since March 7, beginning the quarter paired with Martin and Smith in the front-court, Prigioni and Kidd in the back-court. Right off the bat, the Pacers’ size and aggression on the glass fueled an early surge that put them up by seven. The Knicks held their own, though, finding their only offensive success in the pick-and-roll, as Prigioni drove the lane and twice hit Martin and Stoudemire off drop-off passes for dunks. No ground was gained, though, and Woodson ditched the lineup experiment after a few minutes.
Interestingly, the Knicks tried out some zone defense for a little while, and it worked in forcing the Pacers into some missed shots due to their lack of consistent perimeter threats. Unfortunately, it seemed the zone also thwarted the Knicks’ rebounding efforts. Even once they went away from the zone, Roy Hibbert, David West, and the Pacers guards just pulverized the Knicks on the boards, snagging eight offensive rebounds in the quarter. And given the way Indiana’s defense was functioning, denying dribble penetration and closing on the Knicks hard on the perimeter, New York couldn’t afford to give away extra possessions.
The Knicks’ offense flowed more smoothly than the first quarter, as a combination of Anthony jumpers, a few tough baskets from Smith, and a generous amount of free throws kept the Knicks in the game. A solid close to the quarter, highlighted by Anthony’s pass out of a double-team to Martin for a layup brought New York within three – Pacers led 36-33 at halftime.
After closing the first half strong (“strong” meaning a 9-2 run), the Knicks failed to capitalize on any momentum. Though they got solid contributions from ‘Melo who continued to post and toast Paul George, and from some aggressive Shumpert drives, the Knicks had no answer for Roy Hibbert and the attention he commands down low. The Pacers grabbed three more offensive rebounds – an obvious improvement from earlier quarters – but Hibbert’s size alone granted him some smooth jumphooks on post-ups or defensive attention that opened up shots for the Pacers. Indiana isn’t the best three-point shooting team, but they hit 10 in Game 3 and three in the third quarter, all of which came at seemingly critical times.
The Knicks’ offense stalled once again when the looks stopped dropping for Anthony and Shumpert. After they both hit two shots early in the quarter, they both began misfiring as time went on. Felton, who wasn’t to be found all night, also forced some iffy looks off the pick-and-roll and saw a dip in playing time. Surprisingly, Stoudemire was able to give the Knicks a small boost before the quarter ended, tipping in a missed layup from Smith, and later hitting a pull-up three-pointer to beat the buzzer. The Knicks trailed by nine at the end of the quarter.
The aforementioned theme of the game hanging in the balance of blowout and competitive enveloped the fourth quarter. Anthony continued on a stretch in which he missed seven straight shots, unable to score other than through free throws. Felton teased us with an aggressive and-one drive for a layup, but did little else thereafter. Shumpert was unable to carry the Knicks (not that he should be asked to), J.R. Smith couldn’t conjure any feverish magic.
The Pacers continued bullying the Knicks down low and hitting three-pointers when left open. The Knicks didn’t help their cause at all by continuing to turn the ball over – especially Kidd who had back-to-back turnovers that turned an eight-point Pacers lead into a 13-point Pacers lead. The Knicks just couldn’t muster a comeback, and eventually succumbed, waving the white flag and pulling their starters.
- Part of the reason for the Knicks’ success is that they maximize possessions by rarely giving them away. They were first in the league in turnovers during the regular season. Tonight, they had 15, and often at inopportune moments.
- The other foundation to the Knicks’ success has been shooting the three-pointer (and making it at a good percentage). Tonight, the Knicks were just 3-11. Some of that was aggressive Pacer defense, closing out hard on shooters to force them into contested looks for inefficient mid-range shots. Other times, the Knicks have to be willing to pull the trigger. Shumpert, given room by West, has to punish him by just launching in West’s eyeballs and making a few, even if it’s not always the best look.
- Felton missed practice the other day due to a personal issue. It’s worth pondering if it had anything to do with his poor, quiet performance in Game 3.
- Amar’e Stoudemire played just shy of 9 minutes, and posted 7 points on 3-8 shooting, with 2 rebounds. He didn’t register a +/- for the game, which is a nice baby step. Hopefully some of his forced, arrhythmic post looks will come in better rhythm and timing as the series goes on.
- Jason Kidd hasn’t scored a basket since Game 2 of the Boston series. Yet he plays 20 minutes tonight, and registers a -16. That’s misleading, and he did provide 6 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals, but his on-court worth is not greater than Prigioni who played just 23 minutes tonight.
The Knicks now have off until Tuesday night. A win gives them back homecourt advantage and evens up the series. Honestly, I have positive feelings about Game 4.