- Series hub: Knicks-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…)