Ohhh man oh man, it is today and it is still Knicks season. Last night's game could not have been uglier, but it begot more basketball, and that is beautiful. I thought Zach Lowe did the best job-- as is his wont-- of breaking down the spectacle and flow of last night's hoop karate battle. I tried to recap the thing myself last night. Now I will dig into my notes a bit more and talk about each of the players individually. Your having read the previous sentence counts as consent and absolves me of responsibility for any injuries you might suffer while reading these notes.
- For a second, it seemed like Carmelo Anthony might be about to have A Game-- like, a full-on soup cookout unlike anything we've seen in these playoffs. He caught and drilled his first quick jumper off a Tyson Chandler pin-down, then drilled a pull-up transition three. He was busting his ass against David West, too, keeping his shots deep and contested. All of that unraveled after the first few minutes-- not to the point that Melo had a bad night, just to the point that he had a night typical of these playoffs. He got caught napping around the basket many a time and-- even with a variety of pin-downs, cross-screens, screen-the-screener sets, and whatnot (flex stuff)-- shot a modest 12-28 from the field without getting to the line much. Some of that must have been his sore shoulder, based on all the wincing and teeth-gritting we saw. Some of it, still, was just the usual threat of Paul George and his telescopic arms and Indiana's general mid-range corralling. Melo's late touches were mostly iso, which made sense because George was in foul trouble (because Melo got him there) and Sam Young was Sam Young. He didn't quite exploit those circumstances, but did hit a couple big jumpers, and create some open weak-side looks on the move.
- Similar situation for J.R. Smith, who entered the game later than usual to a hearty ovation (I loved that, MSG. Well done.) and drilled his first three off an offensive rebound. That early success did not portend a brilliant night-- Earl missed his next two jumpers over picks and shot 4-11 overall-- but there was definitely some improvement. Smith saw a ton of picks the rest of the way. He drove over them to hit a couple jumpers and kick to open looks in the second quarter, then spent most of the second half getting smashed by Roy Hibbert screens in pursuit of Paul George. That second quarter was his sharpest. Everything thereafter included a few too many pick hang-ups, late close-outs, and wasted offensive possessions, but this was still a better J.R. game overall. He didn't look fluish anymore.
- Tyson Chandler, too: Better, but still not himself. When he rushed down the floor and claimed the paint before Hibbert could get there, he did pretty well defensively. When he lagged-- which was stlll weirdly often-- bad stuff happened. Chandler fought harder for rebounds, but lost a few too many due to poor positioning and slippery hands. On pick-and-rolls, he still spent a disappointing amount of time hanging back instead of rolling hard to the rim. Chandler didn't have much opportunity to make an impact in the second half because of a dumb third foul in the first half's closing seconds and an undeserved fourth early in the third. He returned late and made a couple useful deflections and tip-things around the rim, even after Hibbert folded his spine with what was evidently not a foul at the rim. Overall, this was a relatively okay Chandler game-- solid defense on Hibbert (and the foul trouble was mutual), useful work on the offensive glass, and plenty of sturdy picks-- but still far from a vintage menacing Chandler performance. That just might not be possible in this series.
- Iman Shumpert somehow played an okay game whilst shooting terribly and struggling a bit on defense. Zero shots-- pull-ups, catch-and-Js, drives past West-- fell after the first quarter, even though the attempts were mostly smart and the arcs looked true. Just a bunch of rim-outs. And as a one-on-one defender of George, Shump got a bit too gamble-y and reach-y, committing a few unnecessary fouls and opening some avenues to the rim. As a helper, the gambling and reaching seemed to work. He committed some useful fouls (it's becoming more and more evident that it's waaaay better to foul a Pacer than to give up an easy basket) and helped force turnovers or disrupt fast breaks with timely doubles.
- Someone clearly told Raymond Felton to get bulldoggier in the second half. After a jumper-heavy first half, he worked much harder after the break to exploit the even squatter D.J. Augustin. Felton's ball denial and wing-flapping on defense helped force a few turnovers and his aggression in transition and over picks bought him some closer looks (floaters, mostly, but still) and passing lanes. That relentless and varied attacking out of increasingly elaborate pick-and-rolls anchored New York's offense until it was time for Melo to take over. Felton used single- and double- screens, turning the corner a few times, splitting a few rare traps, and just barreling into the Pacer-made open space. He even finished one layup as an off-ball curler in a funky mid-third-quarter set. All that scrappin' for offensive rebounds proved crucial as well. Especially when Hill's out, that second-half Ray is the Ray for me.
- Pablo Prigioni played some damn minutes, which was great. He only played 19, which feels like too little, but given how frequently Pablo was fouling people, makes some sense. Pablo played a pretty quiet game, doing his best work in pick-and-roll sets with Kenyon Martin. He drilled an open three and tossed some slick, productive passes on the move. He even fist-pumped at one point, which made me squiggle off my couch and roll all over the floor in unmitigated joy.
- Also: HAPPY BIRTHDAY, PABLO. I LOVE YOU.
- Is Kenyon Martin left-handed and he just doesn't know it? This is a serious question. He always finishes well with his left hand. Has he tried shooting jumpers lefty? Martin set great screens and got some buckets out of the pick-and-roll. His defense was a little spastic-- foul-happy and a bit over-reactive in a way that surrendered some rebounds.
- I don't have much to say about Chris Copeland that wasn't in the recap. He hit his shots, he rebounded, and he managed to avoid disaster on defense. Minor contributions like those make a huge difference in an offensively empty game like this one.
- Amar'e Stoudemire had some moments as a help defender-- both trapping and rotating to block shots-- and backed down David West to draw an early foul but played pretttttttty bad D overall on West. He just gave West whatever position he wanted, then offered a token hand up (or a foul) on his jumpers. I don't think he should get regular rotation minutes anymore in this series.
- Ditto for Jason Kidd, who missed the saddest possible transition layup to continue his mortal month-long slump. We especially don't need any more lineups with Kidd as the only point guard.
- One of my notes just says "SO MANY GODDANM FOULS IN THIRD" stylized exactly like that. Not incorrect.
- Dylan has covered this at least tangentially, but I love when guards push off rebounds and bigs come up almost to halfcourt to set the first screen. When that's Felton pushing the ball, that head of steam gives him a great chance of making something happen in the huge swath of space typically granted to him by the Pacers.
- And, to begin with, guards grabbing defensive rebounds is huge. The Pacers playing without a real point guards and missing half their free throws was the hugest, but New York limiting or at least canceling out their second opportunities was also huge. Several things can be huge.
They won. It is still Knicks season. I have no idea what's going to happen from here forward (soooo much of that has to do with the extent of Hill's concussion). I'm just happy there's a here forward. Much more to come.