By John Schmeelk
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After watching Games 3 and 4, it would be hard to make the case that the Knicks can win on Saturday night in Indiana.
They shot 35 percent, were dominated on the boards, and lost by double digits in both road games. The Pacers looked like the much better team.
So why will Game 6 be different?
Here’s a dose of hope:
1. The Pacers got career games from Roy Hibbert in Game 3 and George Hill in Game 4.
Hill was ruled out of Game 5 — a win for New York — and is still questionable for Game 6 with a concussion. Will another Pacers player step up and put together a 20-point performance? The Knicks, on the other hand, didn’t get better-than-average games from any of their players. Eventually someone on the Knicks is going to get hot and take over a game. Right?
2. The Knicks have star power in Carmelo Anthony.
Melo was good in Game 5, but shot only 12-for-28. He missed plenty of make-able shots, including three of the point-blank variety near the rim. Anthony has only been better than 45 percent once in this series (Game 2, 50 percent), and under 40 percent three times. To win an elimination game on the road, Carmelo needs to be a difference maker. I know his shoulder is hampering him, and he deserves credit for fighting through the injury, but if he has a big game left, the Knicks need it in Game 6.
3. The Knicks were horrific on offense in Indiana but still lost by only 11 and 10 points.
They didn’t score over 85 points in either game. They were still hanging around in the fourth quarter. The Pacers didn’t light it up either, finishing with only 82 points in Game 3 and 93 in Game 4. If the Knicks can muster only a decent offensive performance, they’ll score enough points to win. The Pacers are turnover-prone and go through long bouts of missed shots. New York needs to take advantage of those droughts and get easy baskets in transition. If the Knicks score 90, they win the game.
4. Mike Woodson’s long-overdue adjustments might just give N.Y. the edge on offense.
By keeping Jason Kidd and Amar’e Stoudemire on the bench in the second half of Game 5, giving their minutes to Chris Copeland, the Knicks got the added offense needed to get over the top. Copeland scored more points in 19 minutes Thursday night (13) than Kidd and Stoudemire over the entire series. If Woodson keeps those two veterans on the bench for the entirety of Game 6, he might give the Knicks the added offensive boost they need. Fans and writers had been calling for Copeland to play, and rarely are they proven as right as they were in Game 5. Woodson can’t be stubborn here. If Kidd and Stoudemire’s egos are hurt a little bit, so be it. The Knicks’ rotation in Game 6 needs to be Raymond Felton, Pablo Prigioni, Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith, Anthony, Copeland, Kenyon Martin and Tyson Chandler. That’s it.
5. Say goodbye to double troubles.
The Knicks’ defensive adjustments in Game 5 probably looked a lot better because Hill wasn’t in the game, but the Knicks’ decision to not double-team the Pacers’ big men was huge. Indiana never got going from the perimeter and as expected, and Roy Hibbert and West combined to shoot just 10-of-24 in their post isolations. The Knicks can live with that. They started doubling again in the fourth quarter, but sticking to the man-to-man defense needs to be the plan going forward. It also helped the Knicks on the boards since there weren’t any mismatches under the basket from all the rotating.
6. Welcome back, J.R.
Smith only shot 4-of-11 in the game, but he looked a lot more like his usual self. He appears closer to hitting one of those hot games, which would be all the Knicks need to force a Game 7. Shumpert’s been cold too, and the Knicks would really like it if he could catch fire.
7. One of these games is finally going to go down the wire, right?
So far we haven’t had a game come down to one possession in the final minute. I think that happens in Game 6. With the Knicks’ roster full of guys who can score one-on-one, you would think they have the advantage in those situations. If Hill is out, by the way, the Knicks better win the series. The Pacers are not the same team offensively or defensively without him. His absence down the stretch in a close game will be costly.
Of course there are problems, too. Chandler and Felton are obviously banged up and you wonder how effective they will be. Hibbert was in foul trouble in Game 5; can the Knicks draw those in Indiana? The Pacers were also dreadful at the free-throw line Thursday, something that won’t continue.
I’m still waiting for the Knicks to finally have a hot-shooting game. Is shooting 45 percent from the field and hitting 10 threes too much to ask? That’s all they need in Game 6.
Honestly, my gut is saying the Knicks will lose on Saturday night. Their shooting has been so putrid, I have a hard time believing the offense will be sharp enough to win.
But one game can indeed change an entire series. The Knicks hope it was Game 5.
No matter how it ends, Game 6 is going to be one Knicks fans will remember for a long time. It’s fitting it’ll come against the longtime rival Pacers.
Saturday night should be a lot of fun — and I hope you’ll be hearing from me on Monday for a Game 7 preview.
You can follow me on Twitter @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants and New York sports.
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