INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Pacers got the split they needed in New York. They took home-court advantage in the conference semifinals by winning Game 1 on Sunday. But things went much differently in Game 2, when the New York Knicks used a 36-4 run to turn a Pacers lead into a lopsided victory.
It will be difficult for New York to carry any momentum across a change in venue and a three-day layoff, but the Pacers obviously have some adjustments to make on both ends of the floor if they want to get back into the win column in Game 3 Saturday (8 p.m. ET, ABC).
During that 36-4 run, the Knicks finally got their offense running as efficiently as it was at the end of the regular season and the Pacers looked nothing like the league’s No 1 defense. But the seeds for that explosion had really been planted in the first half, when the Knicks came out with a lot more variety and movement in their offense and scored 47 points on their first 37 possessions to build a 13-point lead. Some of the different things they did…
- They moved Carmelo Anthony around. He caught the ball off curls and flares, and he was used as both the screener and ball-handler in pick-and-rolls. The Knicks actually had some success with Anthony as the ball-handler in pick-and-rolls in the fourth quarter of Game 1, but it was too little, too late. In the final few minutes of the first quarter of Game 2, they ran five Anthony/Tyson Chandler pick-and-rolls on four possessions, producing a couple of open 3s for Jason Kidd (who missed) and J.R. Smith (who didn’t miss), as well as a couple of open foul-line jumpers for Anthony himself. Wisely, he didn’t try to challenge Roy Hibbert at the rim nearly as much as he did in Game 1.
- They ran the flex offense (popularized by the Utah Jazz) on a couple of possessions, resulting in two post-ups for Smith. He traveled on one and passed to Kenyon Martin for an open jumper on another (this was actually the first possession of the second quarter). Neither of those were great results (Martin’s jumper went in, but a Kenyon Martin jumper isn’t a great shot), but you have to like the variety.
- They attacked the defense from the baseline. On a couple of side pick-and-rolls, Raymond Felton and Iman Shumpert went away from the screen, toward the baseline and under the basket. Felton got Anthony an open elbow jumper, while Shumpert found Chandler under the basket for a dunk. If you get the ball on the baseline like that, you have defenders turning their heads and losing their man.
- They moved without the ball and didn’t just stand around. Both Smith and Shumpert got layups in the second quarter by just cutting to the basket, something we really didn’t see from the Knicks over the previous four games.
- From New York’s perspective, the best thing they did was keep running their offense after the Pacers cut off the first option or two. Rather than letting the ball stick in Anthony’s or Smith’s hands, they kept moving, kept setting screens, and made the Pacers defend them for the full possession.
That’s a lot of things for Indiana to worry about. They have the No. 1 defense in the league and they’ll surely be better in Game 3, but the more variety the Knicks throw at them, the more difficult it will be to get stops consistently. Nothing’s easier to defend than one guy with the ball and four teammates standing around.
“I thought we over-helped a little bit, overreacted to some of their penetration, and allowed them to get some easy, catch-and-shoot threes,” David West said at shootaround on Saturday. “We can’t overreact. We’re a help-defense team, but obviously guys guard their guy and we got to let the two guys in the pick-and-roll take care of their business in the pick-and-roll.”
Iso-ball isn’t a problem with the Pacers’ offense, but turnovers are. They ranked 29th in the regular season in turnover rate, committing 16.2 miscues per 100 possessions, they’ve committed more than that (17.4) in the playoffs, and they’ve committed more than that (20.5) in this series.
That 36-4 run got started with three Indiana turnovers in a four-possession stretch. And the Knicks clearly know now that pressure defense will force their opponent into mistakes. Indiana was lucky that only eight of their first 28 turnovers in this series were live balls, and that luck ran out in the second half of Game 2, when seven of their nine turnovers were of the live-ball variety.
There’s no real adjustment to make when you’re turning the ball over a lot. The Pacers will just have to make better decisions and be ready to move the ball quickly when the Knicks look to trap them in Game 3.
“We practiced against post double-teams and pick-and-roll traps as much as possible,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “Other than that, a lot of has just got to be your ball-toughness. Ball-toughness and spacing is really the two best areas where we can eliminate turnovers.”
This may be the most important game of the series, not only because it’s tied at 1-1, but because the Knicks found things that work in Game 2, and the Pacers must find a way to stop them.