Not in our house! Who do you think we are, the Brooklyn Nets? The Knicks dug deep and took advantage of the Pacers missing their point guard George Hill to stay alive with a 85-75 win at Madison Square Garden. The motto is take it one game at a time, and New York made some improvements that we’ll hopefully see in Indiana on Saturday.
DEFENSIVE ADJUSTMENTS: It only took us being sent to the brink of elimination for Coach Mike Woodson to realize the constant post double-teaming and defensive switching was a death sentence against Indiana. Chandler didn’t score much (2 points, 8 rebounds, 2 blocks), but in the first half he played Hibbert straight up and protected the paint. This killed Indy’s ability to find open treys and forced everyone else to become playmakers, resulting in them shooting 27% in the first quarter and 29% for the half.
The Knicks weren’t exactly on fire themselves, but JR Smith was slowly finding his shot (9 points on 3/5 first half shooting) and Melo kept the team in front with 15 first half points. Melo contributed to Roy Hibbert getting in foul trouble which opened up the paint. Unfortunately, he Knicks didn’t close the first and second quarters particularly strong and had to settle for a 40-34 halftimelead.
THE DEFINING PLAY: The 3rd quarter looked shaky early on with the Pacers hitting back to back threes to pull within two (42-40). To make matters worse, Tyson Chandler picked up a bad fourth foul sending him to the bench. But from there, Raymond Felton (12 points) came alive and began working smooth pick n’ rolls with K-Mart (7 points) that lead to layups and a key fourth foul on Hibbert. Chris Copeland’s three-point offense lead to some breathing room (53-44) and set the stage for the biggest sequence of the game.
JR Smith turned the ball over leading to a 2-on-1 Indy fast break. DJ Augstin blew the layup, but Paul George recovered on the perimeter and drove right back to the basket to miss his own contested layup. The Knicks raced back and Felton found Copeland open for a three. He missed, but Felton secured a hard rebound and kicked it to an open JR, who also missed. This time, Copeland snatched the offensive rebound inside and nailed a baby hook to extend the lead to 59-48, the largest of the game for the Knicks to cap a 12-4 run.
From that point on, I felt highly confident the Knicks would keep their poise.
COPELAND ARRIVES: After his bad play against the Celtics, Woodson have lost all faith in Copeland. This was the reason he only looked Cope’s way again out of the desperation of avoiding elimination. We saw last night that was probably Woody’s biggest mistake of the series.
The Pacers had been able to focus on Melo and JR since our lineups were composed of guys who weren’t offensive threats (Jason Kidd glaringly stands out). With Cope out there draining threes (13 points, 3/4 from downtown), the floor opened up and it allowed Melo and even JR to work better without multiple Pacers being so quick to collapse on them.
The biggest Copeland moment for me was seeing him barking at Amar’e Stoudemire about a missed defensive assignment. That let everyone know he wasn’t deferring to anyone not pulling their weight.
STAT’S CONTRIBUTIONS: Speaking of Stat (2 points, 2 rebounds), it seems most people are realizing there isn’t much he’s going to be able to do unless we make it do the conference finals. It took him close to the 10 games to get back to form in January after the first injury. For now, all I hope for is that he’s not a defensive liability in his limited minutes.
JR IMPROVES: Our Sixth Man of the Year isn’t completely himself yet, but he helped way more than he hurt last night. JR went 4/11 for 13 points.We got a few bad shots, but he kept his head in the game. The public Rihanna dis may be just the wake-up call he needed.
MELO THE CLOSER: Melo had 28 points on 12-28 shooting. Not spectacular on paper, but he did what we always want of him, and that’s close the show in the fourth. He went MIA in games three and four, but this time he was an active on both sides of the ball. He took Paul George in the post, drew fouls (a 5th on Hibbert) and hit clutch fadeaways. In addition, he got a jump ball, adding to three consecutive Indy turnovers in crunch time. Over the final 2-3 minutes, the Knicks were able to ice this game behind a 10-4 run.
HOW ABOUT OUR DEFENSE?: We’ve been hearing all series about Indy’s great D. Last night, the Knicks held them to 36% shooting and 19 turnovers. And remember Woody, all these from minimal double teams and switching!
BRING THAT POISE TO INDIANA: In the huddle, Pacers coach Frank Vogel was heard saying once the game got to around 2-4 points, we would start feeling the pressure. Well, the Pacers were never able to secure the lead, showing that when focused and relying on each other, the Knicks are a match for any team in this league.
A bigger test happens on Saturday when we return to Indiana. We haven’t won there all year, but our chances are very good if George Hill sits again with his concussion. If he plays, the challenge is much more daunting. Either way, the Knicks will have to play again with the passion of knowing their playoff lives are on the line.