- Pacers-Knicks: Series hub
INDIANAPOLIS – Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals is a clear referendum on Carmelo Anthony and the 2012-13 New York Knicks.
The Knicks are the No. 2 seed, a team that envisions itself as the one that can knock off the defending champion Miami Heat. But they probably won’t get that chance if they don’t win Game 4 on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET, TNT), because coming back from a 3-1 hole against a team as good as the Indiana Pacers is a near impossible task. So this game could very well make or break the Knicks’ season.
“This is a gut-check game for us,” Anthony said Monday. “Tomorrow will tell us a lot about our team.”
Are the Knicks a contender or pretender? Can you win in the playoffs with what was a below-average defense in the regular season? Can a top-three offense outplay the league’s best defense? Has Anthony really matured this season, or is he the same player as before?
These are all questions that can be answered on Tuesday. And the Knicks must remember how they got here: by using an aggressive and efficient offensive attack in which Anthony trusts his teammates and they knock down shots when they’re open, even if for a brief moment. The Pacers’ stay-home defense has made everything much more difficult, but the Knicks’ have also put some of this on themselves, at times looking hesitant.
“It’s just a matter of us putting a full game together offensively,” Anthony said.
Yes, it’s the biggest game the Knicks have played in 13 seasons. But Game 4 is as much about the Pacers as it is about the Knicks.
Indiana also believes it’s got the goods to beat the Heat. The Pacers are seemingly in control of this series, having taken home-court advantage from the Knicks in Game 1. And they’ve won each of their four home playoff games by double figures.
But New York is obviously a dangerous team. If the Knicks win tonight, they’ll be back in control, with two of the final three games at Madison Square Garden. The Pacers arguably need this game as much as their opponent.
They can’t let up defensively. Game 2 proved that the Knicks can take a mile if you give them an inch. And they must continue to take care of the ball and move it to their open shooters.
“It’s about us,” David West said Monday. “It’s about how we come out, what kind of focus we have. We can’t exhale, feeling like we’ve accomplished anything. Our mission is to protect home court. And we haven’t done that yet. We’ve got to win one more game to protect home court.”
The Pacers were in this same spot a year go. As the No. 3 seed, they held a 2-1 lead on the Miami Heat in the conference semifinals with Game 4 at home. They were up 10 early in the third quarter before it all fell apart. A 17-2 Heat run turned the series around and the Pacers were eliminated in six games.
These Knicks aren’t as good as last year’s Heat. And if these Pacers are better than last season’s, Game 4 is when they prove it.
“Our next step in growth of our franchise is our ability to maintain an edge after a playoff win,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “We can’t get comfortable at all. This is a pivotal game. And we got to come out hungrier than they are.”
These teams have been on a collision course all season. They’re a complete contrast in styles, and at various times during the past six months, each has looked like the second-best team in the East.
Game 4 might finally prove which team is truly better.