BY CHAYIM TAUBER
“The Knicks versus The Hicks” rivalry has made its foray into the 2000s and much like in the 90s, this series figures to be a long, gritty one predicated on good defense and timely three point shooting.
The Knicks suffered an ugly loss in Game 1 in which they were simply beaten up in the post. Roy Hibbert’s hulking presence thwarted countless forays into the paint by the Knicks and he single-handedly created the Knicks worst-case scenario: he made them a jump-shooting team. What made matters worse was the fact that both JR Smith and Carmelo Anthony, the Knicks primary (and only) scoring threats, were mired in slumps.
Raymond Felton did all he could to keep the Knicks in it offensively but the poor offensive output from their top scorers, their vulnerability in the paint, and their inability to stop the Pacers bench (huge offensive output from Lance Stephenson and DJ Augustine in Game 1) essentially sealed their fate. Conceding the first game of the series, a home game no less, put the Knicks in a big-time hole against a team that does not lose their home games.
The Game 1 loss made Game 2 a must-win for the Knicks and they responded in kind. Defensively, the Knicks took advantage of the Pacers subpar guard-play and loose ball-security and converted that into 21 turnovers resulting into 32 points (as opposed to 6 points allowed off of turnovers).
With the exception of Paul George, not a single Pacer emerged as a viable offensive threat as the Knicks trapped over screens and got their hands in passing lanes all night. Iman Shumpert, Donnie Walsh’s parting gift to the Knicks, stood out as a defensive dynamo. He energized the garden with his defensive aggressiveness and brought the crowd (and the Knicks bench) to their feet with a thunderous put-back dunk midway through the second quarter.
Though the game was tight through three quarters, it was the fourth quarter and a staggering 30-2 run by the Knicks that turned what was a once-competitive game into a laughter.
“We turned the ball over, we didn’t make our free-throws, we gave up second shots, and we didn’t guard the paint or the rim…and we didn’t score,” was Pacer coach Frank Vogel’s assessment of the disastrous fourth quarter.
By attacking the guards and forcing turnovers, the Knicks negated the Pacers biggest advantage: their interior play.
Roy Hibbert and David West bullied the Knicks in the paint and the disparity on the interior was a stark one. By not enabling the Pacers the chance to set-up, they forced a half-court offense into a transition game and effectively took the Pacers big men out of it.
“The key to the game, obviously was on the defensive end, was stopping them and getting out on transition,” said Knicks star Carmelo Anthony.
Anthony was the biggest bright spot for the Knicks yesterday. He wasn’t necessarily the key to the game, the defense took that honor, but that he found his stroke late in the game yesterday and finally started to look like the MVP contender that the Knicks had come to rely on is a great cause for optimism for the New York Knicks and their fans.
“When shots go in, it takes away a lot of the stress that’s out there on the basketball court. When shots are falling, the game is much easier for myself and everyone else on the court,” said Anthony.
The offense looked completely different from game 1 and it started with Anthony who made quick decisions with the ball and relied a lot less on his iso game. That and a concentrated effort to move the ball and attack the rim resulted in much better looks.
If the Knicks continue to negate the size issue in the interior and Carmelo (of JR) have turned the corner offensively, the Knicks could be waiting for the winner of the Miami/Chicago series when all is said and done. They just have to win in Indiana, a task that no one’s been able to accomplish thus far in the playoffs.