A 20-15 game from Enes Kanter wore the big man down and the Pacers kept the Knicks at arms-length before pulling away and sealing the home win.

This was a trip to Indiana your grandparents remember. The Knicks knew they were walking into a fist fight—the Pacers have the second-best defense in the league as well as the slowest. They live in the mud and tonight the Knicks had a solid showing playing the Pacers’ game.

Sluggish starts plagued both teams. Indianapolis is not Atlanta, but you could have been fooled into thinking the Knicks were hanging out with Joakim Noah last night. The ball movement was sloppy—when there was movement—with a handful of crosscourt exchanges. The lone bright spot was Kevin Knox who came out aggressive, finishing the quarter with a team-high seven points on 3-of-6 shooting.

The second quarter featured too much zone defense with some suspect whistles sprinkled in. Watch this clip and tell me Frankie fouled him:

Even with some calls not going their way, they managed to hang around. As mentioned, the Knicks continued a troubling trend of playing zone. That gave the Pacers ample looks from downtown. The good news is the Pacers took the bait and started launching threes and hitting at a chilly 33.3 percent.

A chopped and screwed pace made the third quarter feel like you just watched The Godfather II. It’s not a complete surprise; the Pacers play at the fifth slowest pace in the league. The Knicks continued to lean on the zone, forcing the Pacers to shoot over them. The Pacers took what was given and shot well enough to keep a 79-73 lead heading to the final frame.

In the fourth quarter, you felt the Pacers defense start to close in on the Knicks like a trash compactor. Ball security became an issue for the Knicks down the stretch, fumbling the rock over far too many times. Myles Turner’s block on what should have been a breakaway dunk for Mudiay was a microcosm of the quarter.

The Knicks managed to keep it close all night, but the best defense in the East was too much. They managed to keep the game within single digits until the end. The absence of Mitchell Robinson was felt, as a gassed Enes Kanter helped Turner finish the game with a flurry.

The Knicks became the seventh straight victim for the Pacers but will have no time to dwell on the loss. They welcome the dysfunctional Suns tomorrow night in New York.

Freshman Adjustment

Things have started to slow down for Kevin Knox, and the early returns are encouraging. He led the offense to start, perfectly balancing aggressiveness with his shot selection. He launched three three-pointers, hitting just one, but also knew to put the ball on the deck.

The best play he made came in the first quarter when a slower Domantas Sabonis jumped came out to guard him. Knox was clearly setting up for another three-point shot. A few weeks ago he lets it rip from deep. Tonight he put the ball on the floor and got to the rim for two points via goaltending.

He did the same thing when Turner came out to him, leading to this furious dunk.

This is the content we crave and the type of play that will keep Knox on the floor.

Man Up

Zone defense is for cowards. The Knicks did not catch wind of this due to the team’s penchant for the college-aged scheme. To be completely unbiased, it led to a lot of Pacer three-point attempts that fell flat. That is where my positives end. When facing a zone you simply swing the ball until the open man reveals himself. This was the case for the Pacers who were assisted on a couple missed assignments by Hardaway and Knox.

At the half, Knicks assistant coach Pat Sullivan shed some light on the increasing amount of zone defense. Sunday night was more about varying the looks they gave the Pacers. In the second half against the Hornets, it was to clog the defensive leak. That sounds like the zone might be here to stay. Excuse me as I pour a shot of bleach.

Backcourt Shuffle

Trey Burke returned from his six-game absence from a knee sprain. You could see the rust; Burke shot 1-for-7 from the field in 13 minutes. The interesting takeaway is his pairing with Frank Ntilikina. The pairing makes sense philosophically. Burke is Frank’s ideal dancing partner (scoring guard with good handle), but with Mudiay playing so well on offense, why not run Frank and Mudiay back?

That pairing was a -10.9 in 173 minutes last season with an Offensive Rating of 95.1 and Defensive Rating of 106. This year, in just 26 minutes, they have a NetRtg of 15.3 and have flipped their ratings to 111.1 and 95.8, respectively. In a year of experimentation, this is something worth delving into.

Random Notes

  • Lance Thomas also returned from injury tonight but did not log any minutes.
  • Luke Kornet did not get to replicate his strong play from last game. He scored five points in nine minutes.