2013 Conference Semis: Knicks-Pacers

Flattened Last Year, Stephenson Is Flattener Vs. Knicks

INDIANAPOLIS – A year ago, Lance Stephenson was comic relief and the Indiana Pacers’ resident knucklehead. Twelve months later, he is as serious as a flagrant foul and the single biggest reason the Pacers eliminated the New York Knicks in Game 6 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Last May, Stephenson was the Indiana deep reserve, all raw talent and immaturity, who got caught by the cameras making a choke sign when LeBron James missed free throws in Game 3 of the teams’ playoff series. James ignored him, in the moment and when asked about him later. But a couple of his Miami teammates weren’t so detached; Juwan Howard got into a verbal confrontation with Stephenson before Game 4 and backup big Dexter Pittman seemed to be on the floor late in Game 5 for the express purpose of flattening him (Pittman winked to the Heat bench after the hit across the young Pacers guard’s throat).

Now, it’s Stephenson doing the flattening. Not quite all growed up but making a mad dash in that direction, the 6-foot-5 kid from Brooklyn – from the same Lincoln High that produced the likes of Stephon Marbury and Sebastian Telfair – did New York’s NBA team wrong. He grabbed the game at both ends – grabbed it by the throat, one might say – and scored nine points in the first quarter to ignite Indiana in a game it couldn’t squander, then nine more (in not quite seven minutes) in the fourth when it mattered most.

His 25 were a career playoff high but then, just about everything Stephenson does this postseason is a career high, given how unused he was previously. Twice in the first half, Stephenson snagged rebounds and raced downcourt, going end to end through New York’s defense for buckets.

In the fourth, he picked off a pass by Carmelo Anthony and finished with a three-point play that broke a 92-92 tie. Next time down, he drew Tyson Chandler‘s sixth personal foul and hit two free throws. After an Anthony jumper made it 99-94, Stephenson backed his way first through J.R. Smith, then through Anthony for another layup. It wasn’t over, except that it was.

“Unbelievable,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “He’s got no playoff experience whatsoever, but he’s got some of the best basketball instincts I’ve ever been around. There’s an old phrase – he’s a gamer.

“He’s not always going to look good. He’s not always going to be in the right spots defensively. … But you put him in a situation like this – Game 6, closeout game – the kid’s got a lot of guts and great basketball instincts.” (more…)

For Knicks-Pacers, Game 6 Comes Down To Rebounds, Turnovers


Knicks-Pacers has been kind of ugly. Eastern Conference playoff basketball at its finest.

The average score of the first five games has been 88-86. They’ve been slow and inefficient. Both teams have shot 41 percent. The Knicks can’t finish at the rim (shooting 48 percent from the restricted area) and the Pacers can’t hit a jump shot (shooting 34 percent from outside the restricted area).

Knicks defensive rebounding
Timeframe DREB% Rank
Reg. season 74.7% 4
First round 86.0% 1
Conf. semis 67.5% 8

DREB% = Percent of available def. reb.

That makes for a lot of missed shots. And if the Knicks had just rebounded a few more of those missed shots, they might be up 3-2, instead of facing elimination for the second straight time in Game 6 on Saturday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN). What was the fourth-best defensive rebounding team in the regular season and the best defensive rebounding team in the first round has been the worst defensive rebounding team in the conference semifinals.

The Pacers were the fourth-best offensive rebounding team in the regular season and have won the battle of the boards on that end of the floor in this series. They’re not the Boston Celtics, who have two jump-shooting bigs, eschew offensive rebounds for the sake of better transition defense, and totaled just 31 offensive boards in six first-round games.

Pacers offensive rebounding
Game 1 11 31.4% 20
Game 2 7 22.6% 8
Game 3 18 37.5% 20
Game 4 16 39.0% 19
Game 5 12 28.6% 24
Total 64 32.5% 91

OREB% = Percent of available off. reb.

The Pacers’ two big men play in the paint, they know the Knicks aren’t a fast-break team, and they’ve already grabbed more than twice as many offensive boards (64) as the Celtics did against New York. Roy Hibbert has 10 more offensive rebounds (26) than Tyson Chandler has defensive rebounds (16).

Knicks coach Mike Woodson has repeatedly pointed to the Pacers’ offensive rebounds as the difference between wins and losses. Indeed, the Knicks have won the two games in which they kept the Pacers’ offensive rebounding percentage under 30 percent, though Indy still managed to rack up a ton of second-chance points in Game 5.

Note 1: You can register second-chance points without an offensive rebound. On four occasions in Game 5, the Knicks blocked an Indiana shot out of bounds or committed a loose-ball foul on a defensive rebound, with the Pacers scoring subsequently. That helps account for the 24/12 conversion rate.

Despite all the offensive rebounds, the Pacers have still attempted far fewer shots (367) than the Knicks have (406) in this series. Part of the reason is that Indiana has gone to the free-throw line a lot more (130-89), but turnovers are also a big story.

The Pacers ranked 29th in turnover percentage in the regular season, committing 16.2 turnovers per 100 possessions. That number is at 19.8 in this series. If it was any lower, Indiana would be preparing for the Heat right now.

Pacers turnovers
Game TO Live-ball NYK Pts Off
Game 1 16 4 13
Game 2 21 11 32
Game 3 17 7 20
Game 4 16 7 12
Game 5 19 12 12
Total 89 41 89

This is what the Knicks’ defense is meant to do. They pressure the ball, trap pick-and-rolls, and double-team the post, trying to force their opponent into miscues and willing to concede weak-side 3-point attempts if the opponent can move the ball quickly enough. Against this opponent, it’s a sound strategy (though, with defenders out of position, it also contributes to the defensive rebounding issue).

The Pacers have committed a lot of turnovers in every game of the series, but there’s a difference between dead-ball turnovers (offensive fouls, traveling, throwing the ball out of bounds — which the Pacers are very good at) and live-ball turnovers (strips, pass deflections, interceptions, etc). And not coincidentally, the Knicks have won the two games in which the Pacers have committed more than 10 live-ball turnovers.

Note 2: Live-ball turnovers are always recorded as a steal for the opponent. Dead-ball turnovers are not. This makes it easy to tell how many of each there were.

Paul George, as great as he’s been defensively, has as many turnovers (25) as his next two teammates combined (David West has 13 and George Hill has 12). And if Hill is still out with a concussion, George will need to handle the ball more, which is obviously not a good thing for the Pacers’ offense.

Neither team is going to shoot well in this series. That fact has clearly been established. The Pacers just aren’t a good shooting team in the first place, and the Knicks are going against the No. 1 defense in the league.

For New York, staying alive is about cleaning the glass. For Indiana, finishing the series off is about taking care of the ball.

Hill’s Absence And Copeland’s Emergence Keep Knicks Alive


NEW YORK — Here’s the thing about the Indiana Pacers: Their bench stinks.

They have the league’s best defense, a terrific starting lineup, and a pretty smart coach. But their lack of depth (or just one guy off the bench they can rely on for consistent production) is a major problem. There’s a reason why only one lineup played more minutes than Indiana’s starting group in the regular season.

With one starter out and another in foul trouble, the Pacers’ Achilles heel was on full display in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Thursday, an 85-75 victory for the New York Knicks that sends the series back to Indianapolis for Game 6 on Saturday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN).

The Pacers now look a lot more vulnerable than they did just hours before Game 5, not just because their 3-1 series lead is now 3-2, but because starting point guard George Hill is out with a concussion he suffered in Game 4 on Tuesday. Hill’s status for Game 6 is unknown, but he must pass the NBA’s concussion testing before he can play again. (And if you read that link, you’ll probably guess that he won’t play again in this series, no matter who wins Saturday.)

D.J. Augustin, who started in Hill’s place on Thursday, is a decent back-up point guard and came up with a huge performance (16 points, 4-for-5 from 3-point range) in Game 1 of this series. But at 40 minutes per game, he’s a big step down from Hill. He scored 12 points on nine shots on Thursday, but didn’t record a single assist in 39 minutes.

Hill’s 26 points helped the Pacers win an ugly Game 4. And more important than his scoring is his ability to get his team into its offense. With one less point guard to call on, Paul George was needed to bring the ball up the floor at times, and the Pacers struggled to get much going offensively. They shot 36 percent and committed 19 turnovers (12 of them live balls), making things even worse by shooting 19-for-33 from the free throw line.

Hill’s absence was felt more on defense, where his size and tenacity has been a key to the Pacers’ ability to defend the Knicks’ pick-and-roll attack. Raymond Felton had a little more space on those pick-and-rolls in Game 5, with Augustin as his primary defender. And Indiana’s league-best defense was further compromised when Roy Hibbert picked up his second foul midway through the first quarter and his fourth foul early in the third.

That, in part, allowed the Knicks to awake from their offensive slumber, which is a scary thing for Indiana going forward. Mike Woodson‘s use of his own bench was another key.

Jason Kidd and Amar’e Stoudemire each played less than seven minutes, and neither saw the floor in the second half. Chris Copeland, who provided a (too-little, too-late) spark in Game 4, played a postseason-high 19:25, giving the Knicks some much-needed 3-point shooting and scoring 13 points.

“Copeland just has a knack for scoring,” Tyson Chandler said. “Anytime you get him in the game, he’s going to make something happen offensively. He’s been doing it all year. He came up huge for us tonight.”

After reaching for answers and coming up empty in Game 4, Woodson found something that worked on Thursday. The Knicks barely scored a point per possession, but that was plenty enough against what the Pacers were doing on the other end of the floor. J.R. Smith (4-for-11) didn’t shoot quite as poorly as he had been over the previous six games, and the New York bench outscored the Indiana bench 35-10.

Having a good bench isn’t necessarily about the points it scores, but rather the drop-off suffered when one or more starters are resting. And while the Pacers weren’t making any excuses after Game 5 – “I don’t think it has anything to do with it,” Frank Vogel said of Hill’s absence – the numbers speak for themselves.

In the regular season, Indiana’s regular starting lineup (with Hill at PG) scored 108.6 points per 100 possessions, while all other lineups scored just 98.5. That’s like the difference between the league’s third best offense and the league’s third worst offense. In this series, their regular starting lineup is a plus-21 in 92 minutes, while all other lineups are now a minus-28 in 148 minutes.

That’s a big drop-off. And with Hill likely out at least another game, Indiana must find a way to nudge that minus-28 closer to zero on Saturday. Otherwise, this series is coming back to New York for Game 7.

Pacers Up 3-1, But Knicks Still Dangerous


NEW YORK — The Miami Heat are waiting.

The Indiana Pacers know they have what it takes to challenge the defending champs. In Paul George, they have a guy to guard LeBron James. In Roy Hibbert, they have a guy to protect the rim. They have the size to take advantage of the Heat on the glass. They won the season series, 2-1.

But the Pacers have to take care of business against the New York Knicks first. Only eight teams in NBA history have come back from a 3-1 deficit to win a series, but the Knicks might not be an easy opponent to keep down.

As bad as things have looked for New York over the last two games — and they’ve looked really bad — this is a dangerous team. The Knicks ranked third in offensive efficiency in the regular season and we saw a glimpse of their potency in Game 2.

At the same time, we saw how bad the Pacers can look offensively. Turnovers, bad spacing, missed shots. It was all there. Over the course of the four games thus far, the Knicks (who were a below-average defensive team) have held them under a point per possession.

The Pacers’ defense has been terrific in this series, particularly in Game 4, when the Knicks tried to throw the kitchen sink at them. But it’s been terrific because there’s been no let-up. It takes both effort and focus to defend on that level, and it would be easy to think a Game 6 at home allows Indy to not bring their best in Game 5 on Thursday (8 p.m. ET, TNT).

Written on the board in the Knicks’ locker room after Game 4 was, “Win one, change everything.” And that might be right. New York is desperately searching for answers right now, but if they can find them on Thursday, it could get the ball rolling.

All you have to do is look back to mid-March, when the Knicks had lost four straight and 10 of their last 16 games. Their offense was in a funk, having scored less than 90 points per 100 possessions during the four-game losing streak. Carmelo Anthony was out and J.R. Smith was struggling.

Then, in Utah, Mike Woodson made a lineup change. The Knicks broke out of their slump, won 13 straight games and pulled ahead of the Pacers in the standings.

Woodson is likely to go back to the lineup that sparked that run — with Pablo Prigioni in the backcourt — after going away from it in Game 4. Nothing will come easy against the Pacers’ defense, nothing looks good when the shots don’t go in and the Knicks must find a way to keep Indiana off the glass. But small-ball is how the Knicks won 54 games this season and how they got past the Boston Celtics in the first round.

If they’re going to send this series back to Indiana, the Knicks must remember how they got here.

If they’re going to finish it in five, the Pacers need to do the same.

Woodson Searches For Answers, Comes Up Empty



One of the most interesting things about playoff basketball is a team changing gears and abandoning something — a lineup or a style of play — that worked all season because it’s outmatched in a series.

The New York Knicks went there in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Tuesday. And it didn’t work.

With his team down 2-1 to the Indiana Pacers and shooting blanks offensively against the league’s best defense, Knicks coach Mike Woodson abandoned the starting lineup that had sparked the Knicks to 13 straight wins late in the season. It hadn’t performed poorly (plus-1 in 22 minutes) in the first two games of the series, but did struggle (minus-7 in 13 minutes) in Game 3. The new starting lineup, meanwhile, had never played together.

Woodson abandoned more than a lineup. He abandoned his team’s whole small-ball, two-point-guard, Melo-and-shooters mantra that was so critical to the Knicks’ success. Out was point guard Pablo Prigioni and in was big man Kenyon Martin, sliding Carmelo Anthony to small forward, where he had played just six minutes through the first three games.

It was a sign of desperation, and the hope was that an extra big on the floor would keep the Knicks from getting crushed on the boards like they did in Games 1 and 3. It would also allow them to run secondary pick-and-rolls (instead of isolations) on the weak side of the floor after the Pacers stopped the primary one.

The Knicks did run more pick-and-rolls, they ran more of them with Anthony as the ball handler, and they got the ball up the floor and into their offense more quickly. But the result — a 93-82 Indiana victory — was basically the same as Game 3 three nights earlier. New York got off to a slow start, trailed by 14 at halftime, shot 36 percent, scored less than a point per possession and got crushed on the glass again.

“I thought our offensive flow wasn’t bad tonight,” Woodson said. “I thought the ball movement was a little bit better, but we couldn’t make shots.”

Credit the Indiana defense. It was phenomenal for the second straight game. While the Knicks looked somewhat crisper offensively, they still couldn’t get to the basket. When they looked to attack off the dribble, Roy Hibbert and the Pacers simply shut off the paint, where New York shot a miserable 13-for-34.

“Our effort was just off the charts,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said afterward. “I couldn’t be more proud of our defensive effort, our rebounding effort, and our willingness to share the ball offensively.”

The Knicks got some decent looks at the basket and shot decently (10-for-25) from mid-range, but you can’t win with mid-range shots. They got more 3-point attempts off then they did in Game 3, but many of them were rushed or contested.

Truly, the Knicks are in a funk, having lost five of their last seven games. Anthony and J.R. Smith have combined to shoot 33 percent in that stretch. Jason Kidd has missed his last 17 shots, his last basket coming three weeks ago. And Tyson Chandler looks nothing like the inside force that won Defensive Player of the Year last season.

It’s a bad time to be playing so poorly. And you can’t blame Woodson for trying something different. But he didn’t quite reach all the way down into his bag of tricks.

Kidd still played 16 minutes off the bench, even though his two misses looked awful and took place in the first 7:20 he was on the floor. Meanwhile, two guys who could have provided an offensive spark, Chris Copeland and Steve Novak, rode the pine until late in the third quarter and the final minute, respectively. The Knicks outscored the Pacers by 12 points in Copeland’s 12 minutes, and he and Novak combined to shoot 3-for-4 from 3-point range.

There was also the curious case of Prigioni’s playing time. The numbers have shown that the Knicks are better both offensively and defensively with the 35-year-old rookie on the floor, a phenomenon that Woodson has acknowledged often and as recently as Game 2 of this series. But Prigioni played less than 3 1/2 minutes on Tuesday, and Woodson didn’t have much of an explanation.

“Right now,” Woodson said, “I’m reaching, trying to find combinations that will work.”

Nothing has. And the bottom line is that the Pacers are the better team. The best player in the series hasn’t been Anthony, but rather Paul George. And while Woodson can’t find anyone who can make a shot, the Pacers have someone new step up every night. On Tuesday, it was George Hill, who led all scorers with 26 points on 9-for-14 shooting.

The Pacers can now close the series out in New York on Thursday (8 p.m. ET, TNT). Woodson will still be searching for answers.

Knicks Await Word On Shumpert’s Knee


INDIANAPOLIS — The New York Knicks got good and bad news out of shootaround on Tuesday morning.

The good news was that J.R. Smith and Kenyon Martin were both back in the gym after missing practice with illnesses the last two days. Smith had been sick since before Game 3, in which he shot 4-for-12 and played just 25 minutes, the fewest of any playoff game in which he wasn’t ejected.

Expect both Martin and Smith, two of the Knicks’ three top subs, to play in Game 4 on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET, TNT). But one of them might need to start, because it sounds doubtful that Iman Shumpert will be able to play.

Shumpert injured his left knee — the same knee he had ACL surgery on last year — in Game 3 and was held out of practice on Monday, but both he and Knicks coach sounded optimistic that he would be able to play in Game 4.

That optimism wasn’t there Tuesday morning though. In fact, Shumpert wasn’t there Tuesday morning. He was back at the team hotel, awaiting the arrival of the Knicks’ orthopedist, who was flying in from New York.

“They’ll evaluate him and give us an assessment this evening,” Woodson said. “He’s had some swelling the last two days, so they’re going to take a closer look at it and make sure everything’s OK.”

If Shumpert can’t play, it will be the ultimate test of Woodson’s Smith-is-not-allowed-to-start policy. New York has had a multitude of injuries this season and no Knick has played more games than Smith, but he hasn’t started a single one.

Ronnie Brewer, who was eventually traded for a second-round pick, started 34 games. James White, whose offensive skills leave a lot to be desired, started 16 games. And Chris Copeland, who Woodson doesn’t fully trust defensively, started 13. Smith? Zero.

But now, the Knicks’ season is on the line. Would Woodson start Copeland, who has played just 19 minutes in the series thus far? Would he dare start Smith? Or would he maybe go big, with Martin up front and Carmelo Anthony sliding to small forward?

“I haven’t even given that a thought,” Woodson said about who would replace Shumpert if he can’t play, “because I thought he would be here this morning.”

A lineup of Smith and the Knicks other four starters — Raymond Felton, Pablo Prigioni, Anthony and Tyson Chandler — has played just 16 minutes together (seven of those in the playoffs) this season. Martin and Chandler, meanwhile, have played just 12 minutes together in this series, and Anthony has been on the floor (at the three) for just six of those 12 minutes.

Woodson has a very interesting decision to make, but more important than who starts is what the Knicks would be losing without Shumpert. He’s their best perimeter defender and he’s the one role player that hasn’t been afraid to shoot in this series. Anthony leads the Knicks with 18 field goals from outside the paint over the three games, but Shumpert is second on the list with eight.

Whether or not Shumpert plays, we may see Steve Novak, who has played just seven minutes over the first three games, make an appearance on Tuesday. Jason Kidd has missed his last 15 shots and Prigioni doesn’t shoot quickly off the catch, so if Woodson wants to use Anthony as the pick-and-roll ball handler more, he’ll need another shooter out there. Pacers coach Frank Vogel said Tuesday morning that Novak makes you “play four-on-four ,” because he’s so dangerous of a shooter.

Game 4 Huge For Knicks, Pacers


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.

Film Study: To Help Or Not To Help Is The Question For Knicks And Pacers


INDIANAPOLIS — Knicks-Pacers isn’t just a series between a great offensive team (New York) and a great defensive team (Indiana). It’s also a contrast in two different defensive styles, and that contrast is a big reason the Pacers have a 2-1 series lead heading into Game 4 on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET, TNT).

The Knicks, who set an NBA record with 2,371 3-point attempts (28.9 per game) this season, took just 11 threes in Game 3, their worst offensive game of the playoffs. Both coach Mike Woodson and center Tyson Chandler talked a lot on Sunday about the need to move the ball more, but the Pacers’ defense had a lot to do with the lack of ball movement and open shots.

The Pacers led the league in 3-point percentage defense and only one team (Chicago) allowed their opponents to take a lower percentage of their shots from beyond the arc. The Knicks have made five or fewer threes seven times this season. They’re 0-7 in those games and three of them were against Indiana.

The key to the Pacers’ 3-point defense is their ability to stay at home on shooters. The Knicks get 3-point attempts by drawing an extra defender to the guy with the ball, whether he’s in the post or running a pick-and-roll, and then moving the ball to the open shooter. The Pacers make that difficult by not sending the extra defender, either as a double-team in the post or as a helper on the pick-and-roll.

The two most important players in this scheme are Paul George and Roy Hibbert, the one-on-one defender and the rim-protector.

In this series, George has the Carmelo Anthony assignment, and he needs no help. Anthony will get his points, but George is a good enough defender to make it difficult (Anthony has shot 39.7 percent in six games against the Pacers this season) and, more important, he allows his teammates to stay with their man. That’s a huge part of the Pacers’ success and an argument for George as their most important player in this series, even though his box score numbers (17.7 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game, 36 percent shooting) haven’t been that impressive.

Here’s a post-up for Anthony from the first quarter of Game 3. George handles the assignment by himself and his teammates stay at home, giving Anthony little choice but to force a tough turnaround jumper …

Hibbert, of course, is the guy keeping the Knicks away from the basket. On pick-and-rolls, he has the length and smarts to both stay within reach of the roll man and challenge the ball handler if he gets too close to the rim. This is why 16 of Raymond Felton‘s 29 shots in the series have been low-efficiency attempts, coming from outside the restricted area and from inside the 3-point line.

So while the Knicks can talk about better ball movement, it’s easier said than done against the No. 1 defense. Here’s an example of a play where the ball moves quite a bit (four passes in about six seconds), it gets swung to the weak side, and the Knicks still aren’t able to get an open look. The Pacers all stay at home on their man, Hibbert hangs in the paint on the Jason Kidd/Kenyon Martin pick-and-roll, George denies Anthony in the post, and the ball eventually sticks in the hands of Iman Shumpert, who forces a tough shot over Hibbert in the lane…

The Knicks had their best offensive performance of the postseason in Game 2, and Woodson believes that they just need to get back to the way they played in their 105-79 victory.

“In a playoff series, when teams start locking in, you can’t play on one side of the floor,” the coach said Sunday. “That’s what, last night, we went back to that again. So I got to keep screaming and pushing and guys got to recognize that we got to get the ball moving from side to side. That’s the only way we can play and perhaps get out of this series. We can’t just play on one side of the floor with it.”

But the Pacers believe that those 105 points in Game 2 were more about the way they were defending than about what the Knicks were doing offensively. (more…)

Hibbert’s Offense The Difference In Pacers’ Game 3 Victory


Series hub | Game 3: Notebook | Box score

INDIANAPOLIS — For the second time in the conference semifinals series between the New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers, Indy center Roy Hibbert was the best player on the floor. And this time, he didn’t block a single shot. In fact, he barely contested any. And he had fewer defensive rebounds (four) than any of the Pacers’ other four starters.

Now, let’s get this straight. It’s not like Hibbert didn’t have a defensive impact in the Pacers’ 82-71, Game 3 victory. It was New York’s second-lowest scoring output of the season. The Knicks’ three 3-pointers and 11 3-point attempts were both season lows. And the 7-foot-2 center obviously had a lot to do with that.

But guess what? The Pacers are the best defensive team in the league. This is what they do. They don’t double team and they stay at home on New York’s shooters. The Knicks have now attempted 20 or fewer threes in seven games this season, and three of the seven were against Indiana.

So while Hibbert was as much of a rim protector as he’s been all year and Paul George deserves a ton of credit for his defense on Carmelo Anthony in Game 3, it was Hibbert’s work on the offensive end of the floor that made the difference in what was a very ugly 48 minutes of Eastern Conference playoff basketball. Emphasis on the word “work.”

Remember Hibbert’s brutal offense at the start of this season? Through Dec. 31, he was shooting 39 percent, with the free throw rate of a pass-first point guard. Though he was the most critical part of the Pacers’ No. 1 defense, he wasn’t exactly living up to the max contract extension he received last summer.

Hibbert will never be mistaken for Hakeem Olajuwon in the post. He’s neither quick nor smooth. But his offense is getting better. He averaged 16.7 points on 50 percent shooting in March and April. He scored at least 14 points in six of the Pacers’ first seven playoff games.

And in Game 3 of the conference semifinals, a game in which the league’s leading scorer played 37 minutes, Roy Hibbert had more points than anybody.

Hibbert looked comfortable in the low post, using his height to launch jump hooks with either hand over Tyson Chandler and Kenyon Martin. He made quick decisions and he even took Chandler off the dribble from the elbow a couple of times. He was a true post presence, creating his own offense, not really benefiting from his teammates’ penetration.

“He made some good moves down low,” Chandler said, “but we were supposed to trap him when he got the ball, and we didn’t do that.”

Still, the Knicks forced the Pacers to shoot just 35 percent and commit another 17 turnovers. Their primary defense was pretty good. But a defensive possession doesn’t end until the rebound is secured. And that was the difference on Saturday.

Both teams shot 35 percent. The Knicks had two fewer turnovers and two more free throw attempts. But their 3-point shooting was absent and they got beat up on the glass.

It helped that the Knicks were double-teaming (well, except when they weren’t, according to Chandler) and leaving themselves vulnerable underneath. But they were the fourth best defensive rebounding team in the league in the regular season, even though they rarely had two bigs on the floor at the same time.

The Pacers were the league’s fourth best offensive rebounding team, and that ranking has clearly held up better in this series. They’ve totaled 20 second-chance points in each of their two wins, and they already have more offensive rebounds in the three games (36) than Boston had in its six playoff games against New York (31).

Size matters. The Pacers are the bigger team and they’re showing it. Hibbert is leading the way with 16 of those 36 offensive boards, eight of them in Game 3.

“He got a lot of his stuff just out of pure effort on the offensive glass,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “We know he’s going to dominate on the defensive end. When he has offensive production like he did tonight, then we’re pretty good.”

They’re pretty good and they’re now up 2-1.

Knicks’ Smith Questionable For Game 3

INDIANAPOLIS — J.R. Smith hasn’t played well since he elbowed Jason Terry in Game 3 of the first round. In Game 3 of the conference semifinals, Smith might not play at all.

Under the weather with a 102-degree fever, the Sixth Man of the Year missed the Knicks’ shootaround Saturday morning and is questionable for Game 3 Saturday night (8 p.m. ET, ABC).

“I don’t know if he’s going to play tonight,” Knicks coach Mike Woodson said. “If he don’t, somebody else has got to step up and help us win.”

The Knicks will have Amar’e Stoudemire for the first time in two months, which gives them the ability to play big for more than the five minutes they have in each of the first two games. But they also have the backcourt depth to deal with Smith’s potential absence and stay small. Raymond Felton, Pablo Prigioni and Iman Shumpert have all been playing well, and Jason Kidd, though he’s missed his last 14 shots, is still a critical part of this team’s success.

“I feel really good now about how Iman’s moving, jumping, and all that,” Woodson said. “So he could pick up some extra minutes, along with Pablo. Raymond’s already playing big minutes and I’m not going to forget about Kidd, because you’ve got three days of rest.”

If Smith doesn’t play, or if he plays and is ineffective, it will be important that Carmelo Anthony doesn’t try too much. When Smith was suspended for Game 4 of the first round, Anthony may have thought he had to beat the Boston Celtics by himself. He shot 10-for-35 in what was the Knicks’ worst offensive game of the postseason.

“I don’t want to put that pressure on myself to say that I have to do more out there,” Anthony said of Smith’s possible absence. “We gotta figure it out. We’ll see how the game goes, see the course of the game, see where it takes us.”

Of course, Anthony seemed confident that Smith would play in Game 3, even though he didn’t know the details of Smith’s condition.

“J.R. gonna play tonight,” Anthony said. “We can get him right. That’s what we have team doctors for, as far as medicine and things like that. He’ll be all right … hopefully.”