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Knicks 87, Pacers 81: ‘No worries tank fans, we still have a West Coast trip’

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The Knicks came back and won...with defense. It was weird.

NBA: Indiana Pacers at New York Knicks Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Twenty-four hours after losing beloved announcer John Andariese, the New York Knicks shocked the fans by putting together a gritty defensive effort in the second half against the Pacers. New York put the clamps on Paul George & Co. to the tune of 29 second-half points. To put that into perspective, the Knicks gave up 39 points to Brooklyn in the first quarter Sunday afternoon. It was the kind of game Johnny Hoops himself used to call back in the ‘90s — butt nasty, with the Knicks actually coming out on top.

There is, after these types of games, a tendency to throw up one’s hands and lament, “Why didn’t they play like this earlier in the season?” Well, three of the players that keyed the Knicks’ defensive lockdown weren’t playing earlier in the season: Lance Thomas because he was hurt, Willy Hernangomez and Ron Baker because ROOOOKIES.

The Knicks cut into most of Indy’s 13-point lead by the end of the third quarter. Hornacek went with Kristaps Porzingis at center to start the quarter, but the Unicorn was quickly knocked out of the game with a thigh contusion. The Knicks then went back to the Melo/Willy frontcourt along with various cameos from Baker, Lance, Courtney Lee and Justin Holiday for most of the quarter. Derrick Rose didn’t come back into the game until 4:27 remaining, with the Knicks up 7. Some keys to their defense included:

  • Lee, Ron, Melo, Lance and Holiday constantly harassing Paul George on switches.
  • Willy's improved pick-and-roll defense, his quick hands in the passing lanes (3 steals) as well as his defense on Myles Turner (4-11 after halftime).
  • Jeff Teague sucking HARD. Please, Phil Jackson, stay away from that dude in free agency.

Add it up and you have

Notes.

On Monday I declared my concern for Carmelo Anthony’s emotional well-being, as he was wearing a plain old red knit cap instead one of his gaudier hats. After Tuesday’s win? I’m less worried:

And Melo had a right to keep himself toasty warm following his fourth-quarter triumph. Melo was a complete non-factor in the first half, scoring two points on 1-7 shooting, and this looked to be yet another oddly disengaged shooting night from the Knicks’ top scorer. But then Melo rallied, hitting 7 of his final 9 shots on his way to a game-high 22 points. He also did a fine job defensively on George, who had to work hard for his buckets.

— Oh thank God...

Kristaps was wildin’ prior to the injury, jacking up 17 shots, missing all but 5 of those shots, and blocking 3 Pacer shots. He seemed quite committed to making sure no balls went into baskets.

Personally, I have no problem with Kristaps taking as many shots as he likes. Some of them were decent looks — he was just really, really off. Keep throwing them up, my man...when you get healthy, that is.

— I’ll admit, I was quite sad watching Myles Turner outplay Kristaps. It wounded me to the core. But the Knicks do not lack for young, promising centers. This night belonged to Willy Hernangomez, who pulled down 16 rebounds to go along with 13 points, 4 assists, 3 steals and a block. Quite a few of those rebounds — particularly late in the fourth — were of the “grown-ass man” variety, with Willy wading through a sea of Pacers to either secure the board himself or Tyson tap-back the ball to a teammate. He isn’t nearly as athletic as Turner, who stuffed him twice at the rim, but he got the ball when the ball needed to get got. I only wish a couple of those second-half shots didn’t rim out, or his stat line would have looked even nicer.

— Ron Baker threw some sweet passes in the pick and roll Tuesday night. He was also way too careless with the ball on occasion. It is a problem he shares with Willy. To be fair to both of them, however, the Knicks’ spacing was absolute garbage for most of the game. I’m talking about heaps of bodies in the paint, just kind of twirling around and chucking random passes into the vortex. In a delightful twist, New York’s offense didn’t really get rolling until they went to straight-up iso-Melo in the fourth. The triangle looks splendid when bigs are tossing passes to wide-open cutters for layups and/or this sort of magic...

...but when it’s off, it’s reallllly off.

— One more Ron note: Dude closes out like a beast. It’s nice to see.

— The Knicks’ spacing problems have really hampered Derrick Rose’s ability to get to the basket. To his credit, Rose has countered with a nearly unstoppable torrent of mid-range jumpers (16 points on 7-12 shooting).

— Nice to see a bounce-back game from Justin Holiday, who has really struggled of late. The numbers (7 points, 2 rebounds) won’t wow you, but he was right in the middle of New York’s improvement on defense.

The Knicks will stay home and look to avenge their loss to the Nets on Thursday night. But fear not, friends of the tank: New York heads out west for a brutal four-game road trip, as P&T’er Ewing’s Flat Top noted. There will be plenty of losses to come.