The Knicks checked off one last regular season goal this afternoon by defeating the Indiana Pacers to not only lock up the #2 seed in the Eastern Conference, but also have the luxury of resting key players over the season’s remaining two games. The Pacers weren’t a squad to make it easy though, and they gave the Knicks, specifically Carmelo Anthony, a taste of the rough and physical defense they’ll have to overcome for a deep playoff run.
FIRST QUARTER UP AND DOWNS: Melo came out firing hitting his first three shots and scoring the first 11 points for the Knicks. The problem was none of the other Knicks could find their shots and the Pacers remained close until Chris Copeland came in. Along with Felton, Cope sparked an 8-0 run to finish the first 12 minutes with an 23-15 lead.
MELO JR: Speaking of Cope, or “Melo Jr.” as I’ve started calling him, he did a marvelous job in being the focal point of the second unit. He hit back to back three-pointers to start the second quarter and was integral in the Knicks going on a 21-4 run with Melo on the bench to get a 41-21 lead.
With the Knicks big men still convalescing, Copeland was again relegated to having to guard the center and power forward positions. It was no easy task for him this game as he had David West and Roy Hibbert to contend with. He rose to the challenge defensively, and had one stretch where he stripped Hibbert and then drew an offensive foul on Lance Stephenson.
Cope was the most efficient Knick this afternoon in dropping 20 points on 8/12 shooting. The Knicks are in dire need of having a third option to compliment Melo and JR, and Cope has shown over the the last month he’s the most consistent Knick offensively to do it. His three-point shooting really helps to open up the paint, and he can finish at the rim. I’m hoping for a big first round playoff performance from him.
PACERS GOON TACTICS GIVE THE KNICKS AN EARLY TASTE OF THE PLAYOFFS: Because of their defensive reputations, the refs really let the Pacers roughhouse with the Knicks down low. And to NY’s credit, they gave as good as they got (most of the time). Melo got a tech in the third for complaining too much, but he also made sure to get the ball in the basket, hammering down an angry two-handed stuff after a Hibbert hack wasn’t called.
Hibbert got a flagrant 1 for basically face-palming an Iman Shumpert’s dunk attempt, and Melo had to sit late in the third after suffering a left shoulder contusion from a David West hard foul. Nonetheless, the Knicks kept working in the paint, and two JR Smith drives help to give them some breathing room heading into the fourth with a 69-60 lead.
HOW ABOUT OUR DEFENSE?: The Pacers had 24 turnovers in this game (and we didn’t have to maul to do it). Many of them were just savvy plays from the Knicks. Jason Kidd literally snatched the ball out of Lance Stephenson’s hands on a drive to the basket. The 7’2 Roy Hibbert should have had a dominant game with Copeland and Solomon Jones guarding him, but the Knicks trapped extremely well, forcing him into five turnovers and holding the big man to just 4 points.
The problem for the Knicks this game was Lance Stephenson, who was being given way too much room to shoot threes (4/9 from downtown). He did most of his damage in the first half and finished with 22 points.
SOLOMON “RAGDOLL” JONES: Coach Woodson saw early on that Jones wasn’t going to be anything but food out there to the Pacer bigs. Hibbert and West had him falling all over the place in the first quarter. In his 13 minutes, he only had 1 rebound as he couldn’t establish any good position in the paint. We’ll see if he fares any better tomorrow, but I doubt it.
ELECTRIC RELAXATION: Melo (25 points) made it clear in the post-game that his shoulder is nothing serious. In addition, he confirmed he won’t be playing tomorrow. Now this is the only time it’s permissable to have James White in the starting lineup. Let guys like Novak and Shumpert get ample time to work on their shots, and hopefully Rasheed Wallace will be back to log a few minutes and shake off his rust.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WN4YwIQxNWM&feature=youtube_gdata_player]