My word, that was awful. Had the Knicks fallen like that in, say, January, we'd get grumpy, but chalk it up to a long season and move on. In Game 3 of a playoff series...woof. Without ever being very far behind, New York hardly competed tonight in Indiana. They forced a poor shooting performance from the Pacers and the Pacers forced absolutely everything else.
Indiana played to their identity-- walling off the paint, inhaling offensive rebounds-- and stole the Knicks' identity, too, wildly outstripping them from outside and capitalizing on a bunch of forced turnovers. It was like Face/Off, only if John Travolta decided to just put Nicolas Cage's face on top of his own face and Nicolas Cage never got a face in return. No? Okay, but for real: Both teams shot a miserable 35 percent from the field tonight, so one would have to outscore the other with quantity. The Pacers won every battle necessary to achieve said quantity, and that they did so defied identities:
- The Knicks attempted the most threes in the NBA this year and shot the fourth-best percentage in the league from outside. The Pacers: 15th and 22nd. Tonight, Indiana took three times as many three-pointers as the Knicks did AND hit a greater percentage. (Probably worth mentioning that Indiana is the best three-point defense around.)
- The Knicks were the least turnover-prone team in the NBA this season. The Pacers were the third most turnover-prone. The Knicks ranked fourth in forcing turnovers, the Pacers 26th. In the first half tonight, the Knicks committed ten turnovers to the Pacers' nine. They ended the game with New York holding only a slight (17-14) edge in that department.
- Indiana ripped down 18 offensive rebounds to New York's ten.
Think of it this way: Indiana attempted 80 shots, 33 of them from outside, plus 23 free throws. The Knicks attempted 71, 11 from outside, and 25 free throws. So Indiana extracted their 35 percent shooting from a pool of 216 available points and the Knicks took theirs from a pool of 178 available points. That'll get you an 11-point difference.
And why did the Pacers win or push every battle necessary to overcome poor shooting? On top of typically excellent Indiana defense, I saw a putrid blend of poor effort, poor coaching, and poor execution from New York. For the second time in three games, Roy Hibbert ground Tyson Chandler into the floor. When Chandler pushed Hibbert out of the deep post, he was able to force misses, but those instances were mere blips amid a performance in which Hibbert either beguiled Chandler with low-post footwork or capitalized off his eerie disinterest in boxing out. Chandler's torpor stood at the center of New York's rebounding struggles, while stretches of zone defense and lineups with Kenyon Martin and Amar'e Stoudemire up front only made things worse.
The 14 turnovers came from Carmelo Anthony committing an excess of infractions in the post while Raymond Felton and his guard friends threw unusually lazy and inaccurate passes. 17 on the other end isn't such a bad number, but it felt like the Knicks forced a great many loose balls that-- through some combination of inferior effort and misfortune-- didn't quite change possession.
And the threes? Well, the Knicks doubled excessively, rotated late, and gave up tons of offensive rebounds, and all those things create open three-point looks. The Pacers weren't shy about launching those this evening. George Hill in particular found himself wide-ass-open on a dozen instances in which his man doubled the post and nobody shifted to fill the musical chair. On the other end, the Knicks' usual table-setting methods failed to set tables, and even when they did, guys passed on open looks. The Felton/Chandler pick-and-roll produced very little, as Chandler couldn't create any traction with his picks and Felton either could not or would not punch into the paint anymore. Melo continued to draw mostly single coverage in the post, leaving him relatively few opportunities to kick. And on the occasions those two methods did produce outside looks, guys like Iman Shumpert, Jason Kidd, J.R. Smith, and Pablo Prigioni demurred on pulling the trigger or just missed entirely.
Nothing Mike Woodson did served to correct any of the above. His zone defense forced some bad shots, but failed to collect rebounds. Spacing went to shit with big lineups while potential floor-spacers like Chris Copeland and Steve Novak decayed on the bench. When pick-and-rolls didn't work, they fell by the wayside. Kidd (pretty much an empty jersey in this series) and J.R. (obviously peaked) took late-game minutes from Shump and Pablo.
The Knicks got a beat down, just like Bronx Chica said. Nearly everything was bad, and most of the story lines active before the game got buried in the avalanche of misery. J.R. played no better or worse with a flu-- he just stayed mediocre. Amar'e's return was brief and understandably rusty. Melo appeared to have some touch, but at 6-16, didn't fully break out of his slump following a fine fourth quarter in Game 2. Those individual trends mostly faded into the muck, though. New York's ills were deeper and more widespread. After we celebrated the Knicks finally playing like the Knicks in Game 2, it was most discouraging to watch them revert to faceless, directionless cyphers in New York uniforms. Putties, the whole lot of 'em.
So, uh, Game 4 it is. Take one on the road, or the season is more than likely over. We've already seen how tides can turn from one game to the next, so I will at least tell myself I have hope for that one.