The Knicks are alive. It could be the offseason right now, but it is not, and that is wonderful. The season and the hope of an improbable comeback are alive, just like Russ said, and it didn't even feel like New York played much better than they had in their losses. Some tweaks of circumstance, preparation, and execution added up to an 85-75 win.
Just an hour or two before game time, the Pacers revealed that George Hill had suffered a concussion in Game 4 and would not be available. His absence registered on both ends of the floor, with the rest of the Pacers collapsing into the void. The stubbier, far less menacing D.J. Augustin was left to guard the top of New York's pick-and-rolls, which resulted in far more breakdowns and far more Pacer teammates stranded out of position. Augustin and a gaggle of other under-qualified Pacers were asked to handle the ball, making them extra discombobulated and more susceptible to turnovers. Paul George torched the Knicks as the ball-handler on plenty of possessions, but also made his share of errors in that role. Sam Young played more than usual, too. That's always good. So, yeah, a relatively shallow opponent being down one of their most troublesome players helped the Knicks a bunch.
But hey, the Knicks we saw earlier this week could easily have lost to the George Hill-less Pacers. Mike Woodson put New York in better position to win with some adjustments and the Knicks kinda made good on those adjustments. Opening the game with Pablo Prigioni back in the lineup for Kenyon Martin was a decent start. Doing away with Jason Kidd and Amar'e Stoudemire and sticking exclusively to one-big, floor-spreading lineups in the second half was even better. The keystone of those Knicks-ier second-half groupings was-- hey, how about that-- Chris Copeland. New York's offensive movement-- the pick-and-rolls from different angles, the pin-downs, the cross-screens-- was all there, but the finishes still mostly weren't, so a fresh and fruitful contributor was needed. On a night when the other Knick scorers still couldn't get even the best looks to drop, Cope coaxed big Pacers out of the paint with his positioning and put points on the board with his 3-4 shooting from beyond the arc. He was the only Knick to attempt more than two field goals and hit over half of them. That matters! Raymond Felton and Carmelo Anthony still dominated the offense in decisive moments, but Cope's spacing and efficient shooting felt like the difference-- between this game and some previous games, and between two mostly impotent offenses.
The defense and rebounding, to me, showed more improvement than the offense, at least in terms of outcome. The zone D showed up only a couple of times and the baseline traps were both sparser and better utilized. We saw much less of guards creeping sweetly and patiently toward Roy Hibbert or David West as they surveyed the floor from the post. We saw more of bigger guys doubling forcefully when the bigs were facing away from the action. The Knicks forced a few turnovers that way, perhaps in part because the traps were less frequent and predictable. And again, the Hill-less Pacers include roughly 0.64 humans who can dribble in a straight lane and pass while moving. That helped. Sometimes the Knicks exploited Hill's absence and sometimes it just exploited itself in the Knicks' behalf.
Calculated pressure against a depleted backcourt lifted the Knicks to a 19-10 turnover advantage. Better work on the glass made that advantage count. We know the Knicks need extra shots to overtake a defensive stalwart like the Pacers, and Indiana's pursuit of second chances always threatens to deny those additional looks. As we probably should have expected, Tyson Chandler wasn't the one to step up and negate that threat. He did a solid job of challenging Hibbert and fighting for boards, but still didn't look quite himself in those regards. The difference was made by everyone else hanging around the rim on both ends: Raymond Felton's pinned four huge offensive rebounds between his flippers and Copeland, Melo, J.R. Smith, and Iman Shumpert all worked more diligently on the defensive glass. It still felt like the Pacers were granted too many second opportunities, but the Knick rebounders nearly broke even with them overall, and that plus the turnover advantage gave the Knicks a 78-69 edge on field goal attempts. They need that to compensate for Indiana's surplus of free throw attempts in a tightly called game. And yeah, that was a thing. Somehow, the Pacers always felt like the ones in foul trouble, yet earned way more free throw attempts. I guess the Knicks did a better job spreading out the fouls. They committed some good, hard ones to put the Pacers on the line instead of granting easy layups, and that made a difference, too. Indiana hit just 19 of 33 free throws, which...uh...if they didn't do that, it might be the offseason right now.
So, perhaps it wasn't the resounding counter-punch we hoped for. The Knicks benefited from an injury and a ton of missed free throws and made only minor to medium-sized improvements in execution. They are ALIVE, though, and there is room yet to improve. I suppose that's the beauty of surviving without dominating.
I must go, but I've got much more in the way of notes to share with you tomorrow morning. Have a good night!