Well, that feels a whole lot better, doesn't it? It looked for a long while like the Knicks might leave the possibility of 0-2 hanging in the balance down the stretch, but that very much did not happen. After a first half in which the Knicks didn't lead by enough and a third quarter in which they actually fell behind, New York found themselves late and the Pacers just dropped out from under them. A close game became a Quentin Richardson game in a matter of minutes. Very good times, those.
The Knicks won the first half, but didn't win it hard enough. The early defensive improvements looked to me like New York doubling down on the things they know they're good at. They trapped and, at times, over-rotated, forcing a ton of turnovers by frightening Pacer ball-handlers into bad passes and travels and whatnot. Bigs and switching littles made a concerted effort to push Roy Hibbert and David West off the low blocks and out of point-blank scoring position. For the most part, the Knicks took care of the defensive glass while claiming second opportunities off their own. The forced turnovers, post defense, and defensive rebounding struck me as New York playing New York defense, and so, too, did the part where the guards got hung up on every screen, starting that familiar cascade of late rotations leading to open looks. Indiana took relatively few shots, but hit most of them.
Offensively, I thought the Knicks were pretty consistent. They ran a lot of pick-and-roll early to get Raymond Felton floaters and passing lanes off the bounce, and they used Carmelo Anthony in both halves of various screen sets. There were lapses later-- the second quarter included some big units and relatively few two-point-guard looks, causing the pick-and-roll to fade a bit, while the third quarter saw too much of Melo and J.R. Smith trying to climb Roy Hibbert. There was still much less of the feckless isolation and Hibbert-baiting we saw in Game 1, which was a relief. But even with with higher quality looks, Melo and J.R. looked off. Those guys are typically good for a few "nononoYES!" buckets each night, but instead they each gave us a handful of "yes! Good sho---huh?" bricks in this one. More on them later. The point is while New York ran some sharp offense and got positive contributions from guys like Felton, Iman Shumpert, and even Kenyon Martin, the top guns couldn't connect.
So, in short: Through 2.75 quarters, New York used turnovers and rebounding to take way more shots than the Pacers, but the Pacers hit very many shots and the Knicks-- Melo and J.R. in particular-- hit relatively few. That was enough to keep New York slightly ahead for a while, but with 3:28 left in the third, George Hill drilled a three to put Indiana up two-- their biggest lead of the night. The Garden hushed. You could smell the doom through the TV.
Then Frank Vogel called a timeout and subbed Hibbert-- who'd spent the third gobbling up drives like it was Game 1-- out for Jeff Pendergraph. And then shit got wild. Melo immediately burned David West and scored over Pendergraph on consecutive possessions. The Pacers committed a couple more quick turnovers. Hibbert returned seconds later, but New York's flame had been lit. And more importantly, whatever flame Indiana had burning just flash-froze. Melo hit six of his last eight shots and Prigioni returned to make some outstanding pick-and-roll plays while the Pacers simply stopped playing sports. Not only did the Knick offense ignite at long last (over 100 points!), but after 6+ fairly deadly quarters, we finally saw the version of the Pacers that commits turnovers AND misses every shot, contested or otherwise. Those Pacers made a few appearances against Atlanta, and I'd been waiting anxiously for them to appear in this series. Thanks for visiting, guys. Please stick around. You make the Knicks look a lot better when you just stop hitting open shots.
So, the Knicks won. By a lot. That run-- 10-2 to end the third, then a 33-13 fourth-- took me from "wow, the Pacers are just better than the Knicks, eh?" to "okay, it's a series" in what felt like seconds, silly as that may be. Indiana may or may not be better than New York, but this is indeed a series now, and after a prolonged break, the Knicks will have two chances to steal one (or two) back at the "Bankers Life Fieldhouse", as it is now apparently called. I'm glad to have three whole days to steep in a win. Much better than dwelling on a 2-0 deficit for most of a week.
I've been saving my individual notes and .gifs and stuff for the mornings after, but I'm going to be gone for a lot of tomorrow, so let's talk about that stuff right now.
- Again, I don't think Melo took more than a couple ill-advised shots in this game. He shot mainly within the flow of the offense, not out of his isolationist conceits. As a screener, he caught (and missed) a lot of quick jumpers. As a ball-handler over screens, he created some open looks and attempted (and missed) some good-looking shots off the dribble. When he did score, the buckets came off prompt, decisive jumpers off the catch or easy looks at the rim found by sharp passes. Perhaps because of that sore shoulder, most other shots just wouldn't drop. And then the Pacers let him get to the rack a few times and everything changed. It was as if some glow returned following those two brilliant finishes over Pendergraph. Melo bounced in a jumper early in the fourth, then added two catch-and-bury elbow threes(!!!) and a quick turn-around J out of the high post. He looked like Melo. That was big and could be extra big if it holds up at all, because it'd been a few fairly scary games since we could say that. I'll add that, while Melo's help defense was typically sluggish, he worked hard to bull David West out of prime position and deny him the ball. West finished just 4-7 after leading Indiana in scoring in Game 1.
- J.R. Smith did take more than a couple ill-advised shots in this game, but this still wasn't a Bad J.R. game. Well, no. It was a Bad J.R. game, but mostly because J.R. couldn't hit good shots. He opened his stint nicely, forcing a steal (but missing the transition layup), then turning a drive into a beautiful back-down banker and drilling a three off the catch. He went on to miss a couple pull-ups over picks and travel on what would have been a gorgeous finish of an off-ball baseline cut. The second quarter was a similar mix of Good J.R. (useful drive-and-kicks, one beautiful give-and-go dunk from Kenyon Martin) and Bad J.R. (one awful step-back and a missed contested floater when he could have passed to Melo). In the second half, the Knicks found J.R. open jumpers and he just missed all of them. We didn't even get the usual explosion of meaningless buckets in garbage time. He just missed. So, while there were some genuinely Bad J.R. moments-- a few bad shots and consistently miserable defensive rotations-- a lot of it was straight slumpiness. J.R. has been January/February J.R. lately. Poor timing.
- Chandler did a far better job of pushing Hibbert away from the rim. I was also happier with his help on penetrating guards, even if Paul George and George Hill managed to finish around and over him a couple times. That said, Tyson still wasn't himself, which remains disappointing after his excellence to end the series in Boston. His rebounding effort against Hibbert was strangely handsy and ineffectual and his play around the rim didn't match the volcanic fury we've come to expect. He got his dunks, but also missed a few opportunities and looked generally tentative. It's off-putting to see Chandler look so meek and polite beneath around the baskets, like watching a monster truck stop at a crosswalk. Crush shit, Tyson! We want violence!
- This is the Iman Shumpert we hoped we'd see someday. I am by no means saying Shump has hit his ceiling, but the contrast between his shaky play in the weeks after returning and the refined, forceful stuff we're seeing now is positively enchanting. Shump didn't even have such a great game tonight-- George ditched him on too many back-cuts and...oh, actually he put up a pretty great shooting line. Well, the defense away from the ball wasn't the best, and I was gonna say he didn't shoot so well, but he apparently did. The point I meant to make was that Shump made a lot of plays at pivotal moments, regardless of his overall line. Raymond Felton's been good for a lot of that in this postseason, and Shump has joined him recently. Be it a big jumper, a steal, or an offensive rebound, Iman's been showing up at pivotal moments, often making something out of nothing. Like, the put-back dunk didn't come at sucha pivotal moment, but this kind of thing matters in a playoff game:
[Watches a few times. Watches a few more times. Can't stop watching. Pays no mind to the rising and setting of the sun. Urinates down own leg. Ignores frantic calls from loved ones. Keeps watching. Grows beard down to waist. Keeps watching. Starves to death.]
...but anyway that wasn't such a crucial play-- not as crucial as his perfect reading of a George entry pass or his put-back of a Melo miss when the game was close-- but it stoked a crowd that needed stoking. Shump's been responsible for a lot of that since around the middle of the Celtics series. It's riveting. This man. Iman. iMan. Yes.
- I don't really know where Felton went after the first quarter. He dominated early by invading the space granted to him in the pick-and-roll for a couple floaters and weak-side feeds. After that, it felt like he wasn't featured much as a pick-and-roll ball-handler. Then he turned his ankle (shouldn't be an issue) and sat for the entire huge run.
- Pablo Prigioni took over for Felton later and hopefully reminded Mike Woodson that he should be playing a lot of minutes. He wrecked shit in the fourth quarter, killing the Pacers three ways out of the 1-5 pick-and-roll. First he drilled a three when Indiana sagged under a Chandler screen, then he drove and sunk a righty floater on the same play, then he passed up an open look for a standstill lob to Chandler's best finish of the night. After he struggled to track Hill early and picked up a few quick fouls, this ended up being a fine night for Pablo.
- Jason Kidd still couldn't hit a goddamn thing. He didn't throw as many awful pump-fakes, but did look uneasy on what should have been dead-on three-point looks. As usual, Kidd mitigated the coldness somewhat with a couple deflections and some especially brilliant passes, including a preposterous bounce-entry to Shumpert cutting through traffic and a tip-save directly to a Chandler dunk.
- Kenyon Martin played some wonderful help defense and stayed finishing plays on offense. Martin calmly finished some pick-and-rolls AND was pretty much the only Knick in this series to successfully dribble and score past Hibbert. Lefty, too, which seems to be his thing. Solid outing.
- Nothing from Chris Copeland, and nothing of note in garbage time besides Quentin Richardson burying a couple troll-threes and drawing the head-bump celebration from his friends:
We got a Quentin Richardson game in Boston, and now I want one in Indiana.
- The "Pablo" chants were wonderful, and so were the "Reggie Sucks" chants. I don't even know if Reggie Miller did a good or bad job calling the game, but he can't just sit in a Knicks-Pacers game at the Garden and not get chanted at. Well done all around.
And there is real hope for the Knicks in Indiana. They put together a sufficient and very Knicks-y defensive performance tonight-- gunning for extra possessions while hoping Indiana would just miss shots, which they eventually did. And after a long, weird slog, the Knicks finally began to capitalize on open looks, with Melo leading the charge. New York attempted 89 shots to Indiana's 66 AND hit a greater fraction of those shots. They, like DonMoosavi and so many others said in the thread, looked like the Knicks for once.One can only hope these things continue. Of course, further adjustments must be made to ensure Indiana doesn't have these Knicks figured out by Game 3. They've got plenty of time to make those adjustments.
It's a series!
Update: I forgot about this. At the time, it seemed like too uncertain a moment for such a play, but perhaps the Knicks knew something we didn't: