By John Schmeelk
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It took seven games. There were flashes of it in Game 1 against the Pacers, but it quickly vanished. In the first quarter against Indiana in Game 2, the Knicks’ offense finally looked like it did during the regular season. There were a lot of ball screens, movement with and without the ball and very little holding, standing and watching. The team didn’t turn it over.
The Knicks’ offense looked like it was the third-best offense in the NBA, like it was during the regular season. It had finally clicked. The only thing that was holding the team back was the poor shooting of Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith. Both were getting good looks, easier than they were getting all postseason, but still missing their shots.
The breakout started in the third quarter when Roy Hibbert came out of the game, giving Anthony the opportunity to get two relatively uncontested looks at the rim. But in the fourth quarter, the shot that launched Anthony was a mid-range baseline shot that rattled out, and then back in. It seemed to get his confidence up and Anthony finished the fourth quarter shooting 4-of-6 from the field and 2-of-2 from behind the arc.
He scored 11 points in the quarter and finished the game shooting 50 percent. Is Melo back? We’ll know for sure in Game 3, but with the way the Knicks have played defense for most of the playoffs, if Anthony shoots well the Knicks will win the majority of the their games. If he is back, the Knicks need to be careful not to fall into the trap of being overly dependent on his one-on-one ability. That’s where he will start shooting poorly again, because iso sets against the Pacers will rarely yield high-percentage shots. His shots need to come in the flow of the offense, like they did on Tuesday.
Smith is still in his funk, and this three-day layoff couldn’t come at a better time for him. It is pretty obvious that he is in his own head, and is lacking confidence in his shot. His shot selection in Game 2 was for the most part pretty good, but he still couldn’t find the range. He was still useful because he contributed defensively and on the boards, but Mike Woodson needs to start seriously considering passing his excess minutes to Iman Shumpert and Pablo Prigioni.
The Knicks’ defense rebounded after a poor Game 1, and once again showed how dominant it can be in fourth quarters when the entire team is locked in. The Knicks even outrebounded the Pacers, and almost doubled them up on the offensive glass, 13-7. Eight different Knicks grabbed offensive rebounds, yielding 29 second-chance points. The Pacers had just eight of those on seven offensive boards. It was a total flip of Game 1 and was a big part of the win. It was truly a team effort, considering that Tyson Chandler and Kenyon Martin were outrebounded by Hibbert, 12-5. Chandler was more active than he was in Game 1, but Hibbert still had his way with him inside. The three day lay-off should help him a lot.
The Knicks finally broke 100 points and had 20 assists in the game. They finished with an offensive rating of 120 for the game, reminiscent of the type of numbers that they were putting up during their April winning streak. 11 steals and 21 Pacers turnovers helped the Knicks get some easier shots too, but ball movement was the true key. Pablo Prigioni was spectacular once again, and he seems to play better as the games get bigger. He plays very good defense and moves the ball. He’s also taking advantage of the times that opponents give him room on the high screen-and-roll now, something he refused to do earlier in the season.
But he should not overshadow Shumpert, who harassed Paul George all game and finished with 15 points, six rebounds and three assists on 7-of-11 shooting. His defensive intensity sets the tone, and his movement without the ball on offense led to a number of easy baskets. Both Prigioni and Shumpert played less than 30 minutes, two numbers that should go up if Smith continues to struggle. Jason Kidd played his best game in awhile, too, even though he didn’t score. He actually did do all the little things that don’t show up in the box score, not to mention dishing out four assists.
Woodson has a big job heading into Game 3. He has to convince his team that they won not because Anthony got hot in the fourth quarter, but because they ran their offense and that created good opportunities for their best player. It worked because they didn’t take it all the way to the rim on Hibbert every time. They pulled up in the lane or for jump shots that went in. They mixed it up and that’s why the offense worked.
The Knicks head to Indiana with a boatload of confidence in an offensive strategy that should carry throughout the rest of the series. It is now up to the Pacers to adjust to the Knicks, but few teams have been able to slow down the Knicks’ offense when it sets a lot of screens and moves the ball. The Pacers are a far better team at home, and they did get their one game in New York, so the pressure is on the Knicks to steal one in Indiana. Can they? If they play offense like they did in Game 2, and their defense stays at the high level that it has been for most of the playoffs, they can win both.
– I want to see Shumpert play 30 minutes in Game 3, and Prigioni 25. If that means less time for Smith and Kidd, then so be it. Linked is an older story about why the Knicks need more Prigioni. The team is better with those two on the floor. If Smith gets hot, we can have a different conversation.
– I’ll be quick on Amar’e Stoudemire here, since I’ll do a larger story on him on Friday. But this is not the time to force-feed a guy that hurts the team defensively and doesn’t provide the ability to spread the floor to help the offense. This must be handled with absolute care.
– I do worry a little bit about the Knicks’ scrambling, switching, helping and double-teaming on defense. It helped get a lot of steals on Tuesday night, but it also allows a lot of open shots. It’s a high-risk strategy and I would prefer that the Knicks just challenge the Pacers to score one-on-one. I’m not sure that they have the talent to do it.
You can follow me on Twitter @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants and New York sports.
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