The New York Knicks face elimination tonight, heading into a possible series-deciding Game 5 with the Indiana Pacers. For most of the series, the Knicks have been badly out-played by a Pacers team that has looked superior. Through four games, a total of 16 quarters, the Knicks have won just six of the quarters while either tying or losing to the Pacers in the other ten.
Here are three adjustments the Knicks should make if they wish to keep their season alive:
1.) Go Small, Stay Small - Last game, Mike Woodson panicked and decided to start a bigger, more traditional lineup of Raymond Felton, Iman Shumpert, Carmelo Anthony, Kenyon Martin, and Tyson Chandler – a lineup that hadn’t played before Game 4. The unit performed awfully, putting up an Offensive Rating of 62.1 with a Defensive Rating of 107.6, according to NBA.com/Stats. Not good numbers, to say the least. By making this move, Woodson crowded the paint with two big men with limited offensive skills, and forced ‘Melo onto the perimeter where he’s been misfiring for most of the playoffs (though he shot decently in Game 4).
The Knicks’ offensive recipe all season has called for small lineups to open up the spread pick-and-roll game. Two point guards in the back-court increases ball-handling and playmaking, and putting Carmelo Anthony at the four gives him a mismatch on offense with nearly all players. Woodson’s thinking was a bigger lineup would keep the Pacers off the boards and help the defense, but New York was still out-rebounded by 22 in Game 4. Frank Vogel praised his team after the game, saying their best quality is that they don’t adjust to other teams – other teams adjust to them. Woodson should keep a hell-bent small-ball mindset and try to force Indiana to match up with the Knicks, not the other way around.
2.) Gang Rebound – As mentioned, the Knicks have been crushed on the boards all series long. Through four games, the Pacers have collected 50 more rebounds than the Knicks. Since New York plays at such a slow pace, there’s no reason for guards or anyone else to be leaking out in transition when the Pacers shoot the ball. Yes, a little pace would help the Knicks, as would transition opportunities off of turnovers, but the Pacers, with hyper athletes like Paul George, Lance Stephenson, and George Hill, are better suited to play a fast-paced game. During the regular season, Indiana played at a slightly faster pace than the Knicks.
Instead, the Knicks need to be rebound as a five-man unit. They’ve been hurt by the Pacers’ size and Roy Hibbert’s ability to simply reach over players and grab a stray shot. However, the Knicks have also given up many possessions by fighting for boards when three Pacers hit the glass and one or two Knicks are left to try and grab the ball. Similarly, Indiana has gotten more possessions by collecting long rebounds on hard misfires. The guards should always be around to collect long misses. In Game 5, the Knicks should look to take away possessions for the Pacers by having all five players box-out their man, and collectively grab the rebound.
3.) Exploit Mismatches- This is a follow-up to #1- play small ball. As typical-broadcaster-cliche as it sounds, the Knicks need to take good shots. Contrary to belief, the Knicks haven’t run very many isolations the last few games, but it still doesn’t mean they’ve executed their offense very well. At times, the Knicks have gotten good shots and just flat-out missed them – Shumpert, Felton, and Smith have all seen decent looks on jumpers and simply couldn’t hit. However, other times the Knicks have gone away from the spread pick-and-roll and the rapid fire ball movement that opened up so many three-pointers during the regular season.
Part of this “take good shots” business comes from exploiting mismatches. Paul George and David West are cross-matching to contain Carmelo Anthony, so that Anthony defends West, but George defends Anthony. The Knicks should run some 3-4 or 4-5 pick-and-rolls to get the long-limbed George off Anthony’s case, and let ‘Melo get the ball on the move versus slower defenders in West and Hibbert. If the Knicks can’t get those mismatches, Shumpert (assuming he’s healthy) needs to take advantage of his mismatch with West. Anthony also has the size and strength to back up George, so he should look to post him up instead of face-up, where George has been so effective in denying Anthony. Going to the post and forcing help should open up other looks on the outside or inside, and Anthony needs to be a willing passer to hit open teammates instead of forcing shots over the brick wall that has been Roy Hibbert.
The Pacers’ defense works hard to deny three-point opportunities and baskets in the paint, and the Knicks have been too happy to accept mid-range jumpshots. Felton, Prigioni, Smith, and Anthony are all talented ball-handlers in pick-and-rolls, and if they attack the pick-and-roll and go to the basket, they force Indiana’s defense to adjust. With this mindset, eventually, rotations will fail and the Knicks can open up better looks for themselves that they just need to actually knock down.