Pacers 102, Knicks 95: "Well that was a drag."

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Pretty lame start to the series.

To begin with: This is not doom. The series is not over. This game was a major drag, like Weekend at Bernabe's said in our thread, and the series is going to be much more difficult now, but it has not been decided. Maybe I'm just saying this to soothe myself, but it's worth noting.

Now. The Pacers played like themselves today, only way deadlier. The Knicks played like themselves for a moment, then unraveled. The game began with some sensational New York offense. Carmelo Anthony's shots weren't falling, but they were good shots taken in dynamic sets-- ball screens, pin-downs, and the like-- and they didn't come at the expense of his teammates. Every Knick used solid Tyson Chandler screens to create marvelous looks. Raymond Felton got his teardrops droppin', Iman Shumpert found open weak-side threes AND buckets off the dribble, and Pablo Prigioni set the table from patient drives. The defense looked a bit sluggish-- New York's guards kept getting hung up on picks, forcing rotations that arrived late and opened up shots at the rim, offensive rebounds, and uncontested threes. Those open threes didn't fall, though, and Sam Young did the Knicks a wonderful mitzvah (or perhaps a slight disservice, in that he obscured their defensive ills for a bit) with three straight turnovers that helped feed a perimeter-based 9-0 run to end the quarter. New York's offense felt great, and their defensive misdeeds went mostly unpunished. They led by five.

Unfortunately, the middle two quarters defined the game. First, a cool lineup with two point guards and a frontcourt of Chris Copeland and Kenyon Martin moved pretty well, but over-passed on what could have been open threes. They also continued the trend of getting lost over screens and in transition, and the Pacers finally started to exploit 'em for it. A couple more offensive rebounds and easy inside looks fell to Indiana while goddamn D.J. Augustin went wild from downtown, shooting 3-3 on the cleanest outside looks imaginable.

From then on, the defense stayed allowing open outside looks and offensive rebounds all afternoon. The former isn't the worst thing in the world-- the Knicks need to close out better, but Indiana's perfectly capable of bricking open threes-- while the latter definitely needs to be fixed and will require more effort from Chandler on down to the guards. The offense fell to shit for stretches of the second, then really bottomed out in the third. The offensive autopsy will require some review, but here are the things I saw:

1. I reckoned Carmelo Anthony would be able to back down Paul George or blow by David West, and he did both. He got what, in a one-on-one setting, would be great looks. One problem: Those relatively stagnant sets allowed Roy Hibbert to lumber around the rim and casually swat aside every single look Melo got near the basket. This was a problem for J.R. Smith's drives, too. Hibbert got away with some contact, but he also showed off his preternatural, almost eerie knack for standing totally still and allowing drivers and their shots to bounce off his sternum. It helps to be 9'10" or whatever he is, and it helps when the Knicks lean and double-clutch instead of going up strong. Hibbert also waited until the very last second to rotate, leaving Tyson Chandler-- kinda sluggish and unresponsive all afternoon-- unready to cut in for an open look. In short: the Knicks did a fine job getting to the rim, but the Pacers built a wall around said rim. The Knicks couldn't climb it and couldn't get it to topple on them in a way that convinced the refs it was the wall's fault.

2. The pick-and-roll fell by the wayside. We saw too much isolation that ran directly into the aforementioned wall. Felton tried some pick-and-roll in the third, but either because the Pacers had adjusted or because the screens and spacing weren't high or solid enough, the looks produced off Felton's drives were insufficient. Instead of tweaking that pick-and-roll to unclog the paint, the Knicks just let it dissipate. That's become an unpleasant habit when things aren't working, and it struck me today as a symptom of fatigue and carelessness. The Pacers also played a tough game Friday, but they looked a hell of a lot more chipper in this one.

3. Melo and J.R. Smith couldn't hit a damn thing. They missed their attempts inside (again, Hibbert) and they missed their jumpers, good and bad alike.

4. Melo picked up a fourth foul and sat for the final eight minutes of the third quarter. The deficit went from 6 to 16 in that stretch. In the fourth, when the Knicks got some calls and J.R. finally started driving and Melo found just a bit of range, those little runs trimmed the lead down just to single digits, not down to three or four. New York's fourth-quarter comeback never looked real to me, but they made it worse with some bad fouls (Chandler's fifth and six were dumb, dumb plays) and awful, poorly timed shots when they finally did have opportunities to cut the margin to single-digits.

Chandler, incidentally, really got worked. Hardly anything he did on offense after the first few minutes made Hibbert pay for his shot-blocking pursuits. And at the other end, Chandler granted optimal interior position for hook shots Hibbert could make even with a hand in his face, then failed to box him out as well. The Knicks can't lose that match-up that badly.

That's pretty much all I have for the moment. I now have to take a long, lonesome drive, mulling this loss the entire way, so that'll be fun. We'll go into much greater detail between now and Game 2, but in short: On one end, the Knicks enabled a bad offensive team to find itself from outside, in the post, and on the glass. On the other, they allowed some combination of fatigue, unblown whistles, and inability to adjust to dissolve an offense that looked active and creative to open the game, and they ran into about a furlong of shot-blocking terror around the rim.

There's a lot to fix. The 0-1 deficit demands they make those fixes sooner rather than later, but there's a lot of series left to play. More later.

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