NEW YORK – The politicking has begun.
Just one game into Knicks-Pacers, we’re already hearing some talk that may be meant to influence the officiating. Raymond Felton went there after his team lost Game 1 on Sunday, saying that Indiana was doing more than just playing tough defense.
“They’re being really physical with ‘Melo,” Felton said after the game. “They’re banging him, hitting him, they’re going at his [injured left] shoulder. It’s one of those things that goes on in a series. He’ll get those calls.”
Carmelo Anthony drew seven fouls in Game 1, but also shot a brutal 3-for-13 in the paint, as Roy Hibbert and company contested his drives to the basket. He (and the rest of New York) grew visibly frustrated as the game wore on.
“I guess I’ve got to earn my respect,” Anthony said Monday. “It gets frustrating sometimes out there, but I try not to let that negativity sink in.”
The Knicks should hope so, because the Pacers aren’t going to stop being a physical team. They’re the bigger and stronger squad in this series, especially when New York plays small with Anthony at power forward. And on Monday, Indiana was dismissing any ideas of intentional contact.
“We’re just playing ball, man,” Pacers forward David West said. “I thought Roy did a great job with his straight-ups. We take the brunt of the contact most possessions. I thought we were doing a good job of playing our style of defense.”
Pacers coach Frank Vogel may have been doing his own politicking when he made it clear that his team does its best to defend the rim without fouling.
|Paint shooting, 2013 playoffs|
%FGA = Percent of total FGA
“Part of the plan with these guys is do not put them to the free throw line,” Vogel said. “We’ve got to have discipline to be legal with our body position and earn no-calls. That’s a major point of emphasis to our defensive attack.”
The Pacers, of course, had the No. 1 defense in the league this season. They were No. 1 in defending both the 3-point line and the restricted area. And they ranked ninth in opponent free throw rate, allowing their opponents to attempt just 26 free throws per 100 field goal attempts. The Knicks attempted 23 free throws and 81 field goals in Game 1. That’s 28 per 100, a higher rate than they attempted in the first round against Boston (23 per 100).
The Knicks’ offense was struggling well before Sunday. They scored less than a point per possession against the Celtics and are the only team shooting less than 50 percent from the paint in the playoffs.
If you were to give a Knick a single vote for postseason MVP, it would go to Felton, not Anthony. The point guard has clearly been New York’s best and most consistent player in these playoffs, averaging 17.3 points and 5.0 assists, while shooting 49 percent. He has attacked both the Boston and Indiana defenses on the pick-and-roll, getting to the rim when the opening is there, and pulling up for jumpers and floaters when opposing big man stays back to protect the rim.
While Anthony and J.R. Smith have combined to shoot 47-for-152 (31 percent) over the last four games, Felton has shot 57 percent from the paint and 48 percent from mid-range in the postseason. And Vogel knows that Felton with the ball can be a dangerous situation for his defense.
“They got a lot of stuff off their middle pick-and-rolls,” the coach said Monday. “So we’ve got to be prepared for a lot of adjustments and some Plan Bs.”
But the Pacers will be fine if Felton continues to be the only guy getting points out those pick-and-rolls. He scored 18 points on 8-for-12 shooting on Sunday, but totaled just three assists. While Hibbert was forced to choose between contesting Felton’s floaters or protecting the rim and preventing the lob, he has the length to be a threat to both Felton and the rolling big man (Tyson Chandler or Kenyon Martin).
Hibbert’s rim protection and Paul George‘s ability to defend Anthony one-on-one allows the Pacers’ other defenders to stay at home on the Knicks’ shooters.
“We know that, for them, it’s all about the 3-point shot,” West said. “We’ve got the luxury of having Paul, who can guard his guy straight up. So we don’t have to help as much. We know we’re going to help at the rim. But not allowing them angles to the basket prevents us from over-helping and overextending our defense.”
The Knicks shot just 7-for-19 from 3-point range in Game 1 and are now 5-12 when they hit less than eight threes in a game. They’re 24-3, meanwhile, when Felton dishes out at least seven assists.
Now, the Knicks had a decent offensive game on Sunday, scoring 95 points on 90 possessions. But that wasn’t good enough to make up for their shaky defense.
In order to even this series in Game 2 on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET, TNT), New York will have to improve on one end of the floor or the other. Breaking through against the No. 1 defense in the league will be easier said than done.