The Knicks won sloppy in Game 1. Now another man down, they’ll need to tighten some things up to keep the good times going.

Sitting through another thriller, close game, buzzer beater, or OT battle might kill me and you. 

But we and the New York Knicks managed to survive yet another back-and-forth, nail-biting affair at Madison Square Garden on Monday night, this time beating the Indiana Pacers to open their second-round series. 

The semi-finals are where the Knicks fell short last season to the Miami Heat, mostly thanks to ill-timed injuries to both Julius Randle and Immanuel Quickley and a bench that had nothing to offer in support of Jalen Brunson or RJ Barrett. This series against a Pacers team that goes against much of what the Knicks bring to the floor — pace, offensive rating through the roof, and not a sniff of consistent defense — can still bring trouble to New York. 

We saw that on full display in the Monday night game, as once again the Knicks managed to keep fumbling opportunities to get the lead and keep it with poor fights over screens, overhelping on defense, and falling apart after playing good defense for 23 of the 24 seconds of Indiana’s possessions to then concede several three-pointers in the corner on the 24th second. 

So, how can the Knicks adjust to try and finally deliver a “blowout,” so to speak, in this postseason? There are a few easy things they can execute:

1. Win the rebounding battle all game – not just when you’re down

I don’t know if it was fatigue, or just getting used to not banging against Joel Embiid in the low post, but Isaiah Hartenstein looked out of sorts on the glass yesterday. He grabbed an abnormally low six boards. Compared to that of the Pacers’ starting center Myles Turner who only grabbed two, it seems like he had a solid rebounding game. 

But, balls kept careening out of his hands and into the hands of other Indiana frontcourt players like Pascal Siakam, Obi Toppin, Aaron Nesmith, and Isaiah Jackson. It was frustrating, to say the least, seeing how many missed opportunities there were for Hartenstein to get a stop on a Pacers possession. 

Hartenstein getting back to dominating the glass will be especially important with the news that Mitchell Robinson will miss the rest of the playoffs.

Also important in this battle will be Precious Achiuwa, whose role is set to dramatically increase. When Achiuwa was given an unexpectedly large opportunity in February, he ran with it and dominated the glass. Can he do that again against this Pacers team?

2. Fight under screens to pester TJ McConnell

If you are a Knicks fan and you did not anticipate TJ McConnell being an absolute menace in this series, I would love to know how you’ve selectively listened and blocked out any and all McConnell games against the Knicks. The guard is a smaller version of Hart for Indiana, always finding a way to score or collect a much-needed steal when needed. He specifically always kills the Knicks, earning the tag of a Knick Killer. 

In their Monday matchup, McConnell nearly saved a terrible opening game from Tyrese Haliburton by picking up 18 points off the bench as well as three steals and three assists. He was electric without any flare, very quietly exploding to the rim on multiple possessions and often leaving New York looking around at one another and wondering who lost him on defense. On most of his shots, it was just a matter of no one fighting under screens, and instead fighting over them and granting him an open lane to the paint. In addition to that, McConnell was also cooking Brunson for most of the game, taking advantage of his speed and blowing past him on numerous occasions in transition and taking advantage of the Knicks’ bigs not getting back in time to defend the paint. 

McConnell is going to be tough to slow down all series. If the Knicks can, at least, get the ball out of his hands by getting under those screens and disrupting his dribble and drive, they have a chance of forcing Indiana’s other role players to make something happen. 

3. Firmly grasp it

New York had so many possessions, especially towards the end of the game, where they got deflection after deflection on Indiana, but kept tapping the ball right back into the Pacers players’ hands and allowing them to score. If they simply pick up some steals on these deflections, I think we’ll see a far less chaotic finish to this contest than we did on Monday. 

The Knicks averaged 14.5 deflections per game this season, and they have to take advantage of those deflections on this fast Pacers team to give them a taste of their own medicine. With Hart seemingly planning to be on the floor for all 48 minutes per game this series, the Knicks can easily win the transition scoring battle if they start to stack up those deflections and steals. Without securing the ball, they’re simply delaying the inevitable on those possessions. 

4. The bench, specifically Deuce McBride, needs to step up

We all saw the flashing on the screen of the swelling number of bench points the Pacers had throughout the game, and the standstill single-digit number of bench points the Knicks had on Monday night. In short, it was disappointing. After a strong showing from Deuce McBride throughout the Philadelphia series, he looked like he was rushing everything on offense on Monday in the first quarter. But then, he just never bothered to get aggressive on offense again, with his only two shots of the night coming in the first. It was uncharacteristic, to say the least, and it threatens his playing time for head coach Tom Thibodeau who is notorious for being pretty quick with pulling the plug on his bench if they’re giving nothing on the floor. 

In addition to McBride, the aforementioned Achiwua will be critical. He played just four minutes in game one and will now be looked to to fill the nearly 20 minutes a night Robinson was playing. 

If New York wants to finally put together a sure-thing victory against the Pacers in this series and tonight, the bench has to step up to the plate and give the starters a chance to breathe. If Thibs decides to expand the rotation by going to someone like Alec Burks, the next man up has to be ready to go.

The Knicks are able to move this series. The Pacers aren’t as physical on defense as the Sixers were, and this opens the door for Brunson to keep their offense flowing and allows him to bail them out when their shots are off. Improvements can always be made, though. Hopefully, we see some in Game 2 and another win that doesn’t give us all angina. 

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