What began as a promising Game 1 for the New York Knicks quickly turned into a nightmare. The Knicks and Indiana Pacers, once fierce rivals in the ’90s, have once again met to square off as the second-best team in the Eastern Conference. After the Game 1 outing, it looks like the Pacers, and the margin doesn’t seem so slim.
After a hot start which saw the Knicks play with tempo and a clear game plan in mind, the Pacers caught up and simply out-worked the Knicks and adjusted far better. New York began the game with a disciplined offensive approach – attack the basket in the pick-and-roll, when the defense collapses, kick it out to shooters. They rang up 27 points on Indiana in the first quarter, but the second quarter began the trouble. Indiana began to work inside-out on offense, punishing the Knicks inside, or draining from the outside when New York’s rotations were slow. On offense, the Knicks hurt themselves by going away from their effective attack in the pick-and-roll, but Indiana’s number-one defense plugged up remaining holes. Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith, the two most heavily leaned-upon Knicks, struggled once again, and in doing so, complicated the Knicks’ approach.
Things looked to be turning around early in the third quarter, but quick foul trouble on Anthony relegated him to the bench, and New York sputtered thereafter. The Pacers exposed whatever holes remained in New York’s defense, while the Knicks failed to reach even 20 points in consecutive quarters. Outraged over some poor refereeing and their own incompetence, the Knicks dug themselves into a double-digit hole. They fought back in the fourth quarter, gradually connecting on some jumpers, attacking the basket or at least drawing fouls, and defending with vigor. However, when they needed stops or the momentum-pushing baskets most, the Knicks couldn’t come up with.
Here’s a look at the individual performances:
Carmelo Anthony – 36 minutes, 27 points, 10-28 FG, 1-4 3FG 11 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 2 TOs, +2
As mentioned, Anthony picking up his fourth foul early in the third quarter changed the game. The Knicks were struggling, but at the time, it was a single-digit lead. Although Anthony’s offense was hardly effective to that point, his presence alone changes a team’s defense. Without Anthony, the Knicks relied on a lot of pick-and-roll and too much J.R. Smith who connected from the field like dial-up internet during a hurricane. All game – with ‘Melo still in an inexplicably ill-timed shooting slump from downtown – Anthony’s biggest problem (quite literally) was Roy Hibbert’s rim defense. Occasionally, Anthony’s attacks to the rim were denied by straight-up, staunch, clean rim defense. Other times, like on a MASSIVE near-dunk on Hibbert, Anthony was met with slaps to face, wrists, or body-to-body contact. The Knicks’ loss was by no means on the officials, but if half of Anythony’s drives were called for fouls (and they were on about half of them), the game would’ve been much closer. Later, as Anthony resolved to just pulling up from outside, he splashed on some comeback-starting jumpers, but couldn’t finish the deal with the big baskets New York really needed.
Final Grade: C+
Raymond Felton – 38 minutes, 18 points, 8-12 FG, 2 rebounds, 3 assists, -9
Felton continues to be the Knicks’ best option on offense, and his defense has become oddly stingy. Why the Knicks ever went away from Felton high pick-and-rolls in the first half is totally bewildering. For much of the game, when Felton was given a good pick, he wriggled his way into the defense, often finishing with a suddenly accurate floater, or dishing out to the perimeter or for drop-off passes. The Knicks just wouldn’t keep up with these plays for whatever reason. The Knicks won’t win this series if Felton is consistently the best scorer, although it is very appreciated, Ray.
Final Grade: B+
J.R. Smith – 34 minutes, 17 points, 4-15 FG, 2-6 3FG, 7-10 FT, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, -3
J.R. Smith’s fall from grace has come in the form of bricked jumpers, decided isolations, and unfinished drives. Once again, when New York needed a scorer most, Smith let the call go to voicemail (for those keeping score, that’s two phone analogies I’ve made for J.R. in this post). Smith had one strong final quarter in which he defended with gusto, getting over screens and selling fouls with conviction. In said quarter, he also suddenly drained a few jumpers and got to the basket for layups or free throws. Smith has been seen out at night for two public events in two of the last three games. The correlations isn’t definite, but the results haven’t been favorable, either. It’s fair to wonder if Smith’s sense of urgency is where it should be.
Final Grade: C-
Kenyon Martin – 25 minutes, 12 points, 5-8 FG, 3 rebounds, 1 steal, 2 blocks, -6
Martin had his moments in this one, finishing some plays around the rim and deterring some drivers. He was often paired with Tyson Chandler in the frontcourt, however, and there was rarely ever any success. Martin actually defended admirably, but even when he and Chandler denied opportunities inside, the Knicks were beaten from the outside. And on offense, the pairing just clogs up space, especially when the Knicks are so dry from outside.
Final Grade: B-
Iman Shumpert – 32 minutes, 11 points, 4-11 FG, 1-4 3FG, 4 rebounds, 3 TOs, -13
Shumpert missed some clean looks from the perimeter that he’d been hitting with regularity thus far in the playoffs. The misses only compounded the Knicks’ offensive struggles. Somewhat similarly, Shumpert had his moments, but guarding Lance Stephenson and Paul George is not like defending Paul Pierce – the prior two can actually move. Again, the Knicks won’t win the series if Anthony and Smith aren’t at their best, but Shumpert needs to be positive X-factor on both ends of the floor if the Knicks want to advance.
Final Grade: C+
Chris Copeland – 8 minutes, 6 points, 2-3 FG, -6
Surprised? So was everyone else, probably. Copeland hardly saw minutes in the Celtics series, but he was suddenly thrown into the mix at the onset of this second round series. Copeland didn’t offer much, but he did hit two threes, which could be a useful skills for this current version of the Knicks. At best, Cope could serve as a surprise to the Pacers who may be unaware of his offensive skills.
Final Grade: C
Tyson Chandler – 28 minutes, 4 points, 2-2 FG, 3 rebounds, 6 PFs, 1 steal, 2 blocks, 2 TOs, -8
Chandler coupled a relatively weak performance with two back-breaking blunders in the final minutes of the game. Down eight with under three minutes remaining, the Knicks’ defense forced Indiana into a deep three as the shot-clock expired, as the Knicks went to corral the rebound just before the shot clock expired, Chandler was whistled for a blatant pushing foul on Roy Hibbert during a box-out. On the Pacers’ new 24, Chandler fouled Hibbert after forcing him into a fade-away, 14-footer along the baseline. Hibbert then sank both free throws as the Pacers had knocked about 30 seconds off the clock. Already Chandler had struggled defending and rebounding against the Pacers’ big men. On offense, Chandler’s invisible on his dives to the rim – a fault that’s both he and his teammates’ fault. Like many others, the Knicks need Chandler to be the best center on the court to win this series.
Final Grade: C-
Pablo Prigioni – 22 minutes, 0 points, 0-1 FG, 6 assists, 1 steal, 1 TO, +2
What happened to our dear, sweet Pablo from Game 6? Prigioni hardly launched from deep depsite shooting fairly well for the playoffs, and he had clear trouble defending Indiana’s significantly speedier guards than Boston’s. He was, however, part of the Knicks’ uber effective pick-and-roll attack, but part of that is being willing to take open three-pointers when the defense sags off. He still needs time and can help the Knicks more than Jason Kidd, but he needs to regain his aggression.
Final Grade: C+
Jason Kidd – 17 minutes, 0 points, 0-1 FG, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 TO, +4
Ignore Kidd’s +/-; it’s not reflective of his play. Kidd has been ineffective in almost every game of the playoffs to the point where I wouldn’t be wholly upset if he stopped getting playing time. Of course that won’t happen (though credit Mike Woodson for cutting Kidd’s playing time down slightly). He can’t stay in front of guards on offense (he and Prigioni let DJ Augustin drop 16) and he’s a non-factor on offense.
Final Grade: C-
Marcus Camby – 12 seconds, -3
Camby played for 12 seconds at the end of the first half to avoid other big men picking up a foul, and the Knicks were out-scored by three points during that time.
Final Grade: C
The Knicks play Tuesday night in an essential must-win. The scary thought is that the Knicks are three losses away from ending their season. Gulp.