From the start this series had all the markings of a good, old-fashioned “guard your grill, knuckle up” type of series the likes of which would make former Knick Charles Oakley proud.
The Indiana Pacers brutalized their prior opponent (the Atlanta Hawks) on the offensive boards. The Pacers were the league’s best rebounding team (54.5, according to Team Rankings) coming into the playoffs, and that trend had continued against the Knicks as well in Game 1.
In their Game 1 match up against the Pacers, the Knicks were out-rebounded 44-30. An embarrassing margin. The Knicks went on to lose 102-92. The Pacers’ game plan was made achingly apparent to Carmelo Anthony. He was constantly harassed by the Indiana Pacers, and the tweets of the refs’ whistles as well.
But the New York Knicks turned the tables on the Pacers in game two. Leading by two with three minutes left in the third quarter, Indiana coach Frank Vogel called a time out. The Pacers would eventually score again, but only after giving the Knicks a 26-point head start. New York went on a 30-2 run in the second half-16 of which were scored by Carmelo Anthony-to absolutely dismantle the Indiana Pacers 105-79.
Former Arizona Cardinals head coach once said “They are who we thought they were” after a disappointing loss to a heavily-favored Chicago Bears team the Cardinals had on the ropes, but “…we them off the hook” Green would famously rant at a post game press conference.
After two games in the Eastern Conference semis we know exactly who these two teams are. The Pacers used their size and inside muscle with such maliciousness intent during game one I thought I was watching the Gashouse Gorillas beat up on the JV team down at our Lady of Lost Causes Prep. But the Knicks, fueled by the hot shooting of Carmelo Anthony and the defensive spark provided by Iman Shumpert, seemed to find their offense and revealed the Pacers’ weakness simultaneously. The Pacers just don’t score very well.
In fact, outside of Paul George (sometimes D.J. Augustin, George Hill and even Lance Stephenson can get creative offensively once in a dog’s age) you would be hard pressed to find a Pacer who can create his own shot. The New York Knicks have three such players in Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith and Raymond Felton, who has been scoring with relative ease against Pacer guards and has been playing the best basketball of his career throughout the 2013 NBA playoffs. Perhaps the Knicks will suit up four players with this ability if often-injured power forward Amar’e Stoudimire can be counted on for any offensive productivity at all. Fox News Online is reporting that Amar’e would be limited to around 10-15 minutes per game should he return in game three.
Can we hope for 10 points and 5 rebounds from S.T.A.T. in that time? Hey, stranger things have allegedly happened. Those things likely had something to do with leprechauns and flying saucers, but those stranger things have allegedly happened. Speaking of shot selection, J.R. Smith is due for an outstanding game or two against the Indiana Pacers. During the regular season he scored 15, 5, 25 and 13 points for an average of 11.6 points per game in four games versus the Pacers. His offense has trended up only slightly against Indiana during the playoffs, but he’s still scoring well below his regular season average of 18 per game. New York Knicks’ coach Mike Woodson had this to say regarding Smith’s playing time to ESPN Radio-transcribed by Newsday
“I’ll gauge J.R. as we go along and if I feel he’s not giving me anything, I could always turn to other guys on that bench,” he said. “I feel good about the guys who come in off the bench, just like I feel good about J.R. But if he’s struggling and I feel the need that I got to pull him, I will do that as the head coach.” The prideful J.R. Smith is having the most productive season of his basketball career. It would be a shame to see the New York Knicks be eliminated in part because of the recent offensive ineptitude of Smith. He is a bad shot taker, but also a bad shot maker. Heck, he can’t miss forever? Right? Let’s hope not.
Pacers small forward Paul George actually played poorly against the Knicks during Indiana’s game one victory. He shot 5-14 from the field (2-6 on 3-pointers) and hit seven of his eight free throw attempts in route to 19 points. He shot the ball better in Game 2, but he only had one assist. Fueled by the home crowd at Conseco Fieldhouse, George’s numbers will likely hover around the triple double mark as he tries his best to channel the basketball ghost of Scottie Pippen.
Lance Stephenson, who is averaging 8 points and 8 rebounds in the playoffs, had been allowed to sneak down into the paint and take lunch money from the Knicks’ frontline to the tune of 13 rebounds to go along with 11 points in game one. The offending behavior was largely curtailed in game two as Stephenson only gathered four rebounds. However, this was likely because Lance drifted outside the arc late in the game in an attempt at cutting into the Knicks’ mammoth fourth quarter lead. He was 1 for 7 on 3-point attempts. Look for Stephenson to attack the offensive glass in game three as he did in game one.
George Hill is another of the Pacers’ chiseled backcourt. Standing at 6’2″ tall, the smooth shooting, strong rebounding guard may eventually become a problem for Knick defenders if his teammates find him on a consistent basis. He has a high basketball IQ and a great touch to boot. He’s averaging 13 points per game in the series while only shooting 32 percent from the field, nearly 13 percentage points below his regular season shooting clip of 44.5 percent. He’s due for a monster game.
Regarding the battle of the big men? Well, there’s no way to say this other than just saying it; Roy Hibbert made Tyson Chandler work harder than an unpaid intern in game one. Chandler is averaging six points and three rebounds against the Indy frontline. Tyson has to find a way to stay out of foul trouble so that he may remain on the floor. Hibbert had six points to go along with 12 rebounds in game two. Look for the Pacers to try to establish him in the paint early and often.Carmelo Anthony will come out with both guns blazing today as he did in game two.
Look for Raymond Felton to continue to remind the Pacer point guards that he is a consistent scoring threat that cannot be ignored. He’s averaging 17 points and 6 assists throughout this year’s playoffs. Indiana is big and Indiana is young, but they also struggle to score at times. If the Knicks are up by 10 points or more late in the game the Pacers simply do not have enough firepower to reel them back in. Knicks by seven in Indy.
Ricardo A. Hazell is a freelance journalist based in the Bronx, NY. He has written for EURweb.com almost from the beginning and started out as a writer for Lee Bailey’s RadioScope in 1998. He currently covers entertainment, sports, current events and politics. His byline has appeared in such publications as Bleacher Report, Allhiphop.com, Right On, the Philadelphia Sun, Black Beat and more. You can follow him on twitter at NikosMightyDad.