True to his word, head coach Jeff Hornacek gave Ntilikina more minutes as he paired the Frenchman in the backcourt with new acquisition Emmanuel Mudiay in a defeat in Indiana, 121–113.

One thing that can be a bone of contention with the New York Knicks (23–34) is their ability to take care of the ball. In their first of back-to-back games on the road, the Knicks went the entire first quarter and a half without a single turnover. The defense keyed in and forced the Pacers to commit three in the second quarter. The squad put up 62 points in the first half against Indiana’s fast-paced defense. The offensive effort was lead by Courtney Lee and Enes Kanter (who finished with 14 and 17 points, respectively).

Without KP, the paint was available for Enes Kanter to do what he does best—body and bully his man out of position. Kanter got off to a smooth start, scoring 13 points in the first half. Myles Turner struggled to stop Kanter around the rim and Domantas Sabonis didn’t fare much better.

Coach Hornacek stayed true to his word and trotted out Frank Ntilikina and Emmanuel Mudiay early in the first quarter. Mudiay became the primary ball-handler and distributor. Not only was he assertive offensively, but Mudiay made some awesome passes in his first game:

The Knicks did a decent job defensively in the first half on Victor Oladipo, however, his teammates could not be denied. The Pacers are loaded with shooters who take turns benefiting from Oladipo’s unselfishness. Bojan Bogdanovic was everywhere on the floor, including knocking down 3-of-5 threes in the first half. One of the reasons the Knicks struggled to keep track of Bogdanovic is because of how fast the Pacers move the ball. Similar to San Antonio, the Pacers consistently look for the open man and utilize crafty passes to do so. I mean, I can’t tell you the last time I saw a bounce pass get threaded inside successfully and lead to a bucket. But it happened twice.

The old adage of “good defense leads to offense” couldn’t have been more evident in the second half. Victor Oladipo gets into the lane as good as any elite defender. Two of his six steals led to thunderous dunks. At one point, the Pacers went up 17 points in the third quarter. Though the Knicks did dig into that lead and made a concerted effort late in the fourth, Oladipo came back in and carried the Pacers to a safe win, save for a late-game scare from New York.

What worked well:
  • Kyle O’Quinn—a notorious committer of silly fouls—was productive off the bench. He had three blocks and even hit a corner three, his first triple of the season. O’Quinn finished with 14 points.
  • I really like what I saw from Mudiay tonight. He did a little bit of everything on both sides of the ball. But I mostly liked how much of a complement he is to Frank Ntilikina in the backcourt. The duo combined for 26 points including cash money from the charity stripe. Mudiay had a double-double and led the team in dimes with 10.

  • Tim Hardaway Jr looked… better? It’s hard to say because he’s been uninspiring since his return. But he has come out of that horrid slump from beyond the arc by nailing three from long-distance.
What didn’t work well:
  • THJ had 17 shot attempts, seven of which were from beyond the arc. With KP out, the interior is going to open for him to drive. Although we’ve been saying that the Knicks need to shoot the three-ball more, I just don’t see that happening with this personnel (Ed. note: the Knicks did shoot 9-of-35 from deep on Sunday). Therefore, I’d like to see THJ be more geared towards attacking, particularly when he’s having lesser players guard him.

  • In addition to not being able to seal off opportunities for Bogdanovic, the Knicks also let Lance Stephenson warm up in the second half. Off the bench, he shot 50 percent from outside the arc. And in typical Lincoln Legend fashion, he got under KOQ’s skin by strumming his air guitar and drawing a technical foul. Never change, Lance.
  • I’m not sure how Luke Kornet fits into the Knicks’ plan going forward, but I do know I didn’t like what I saw tonight. Kornet took all three of his attempts from beyond the arc. That may be a strong suit, given he shot 44 percent in the G League. However, I hope to see him play a bit more inside like a traditional big man. He did have two steals, though.

You can live with a loss like this. The Knicks scored over 100 points on the road against the team that just held the Celtics to 91. The guys showed effort when they got within reach. More poignant to the attention on youth, Mudiay is a much-needed spark and brings to this team a level of energy that hopefully will continue to force guys to run the open floor.