Given how the Knicks responded to the beat down they received from the Pacers in game one of the semi-finals, it made sense that they clawed their way back into the series by returning the favor in game two.
So when game three resulted in quite the feeble effort from New York, many expected them to come out raring to go. Unfortunately, only more of the weak play followed through game four.
Over the course of the Knicks 93-82 loss to the Pacers on Tuesday night, it was clear to see why New York should be at a loss for words at this point.
For the second straight game, the Knicks failed to get things going offensively. Despite scoring 24 points and grabbing 9 rebounds, Carmelo Anthony cannot do it all alone. As he winces through the pain and attempts to minimize his difficulty to play through a bevy of accumulated postseason bumps and bruises, the forward is by no means able to carry the Knicks all by himself. Frankly, he shouldn’t have to. The Pacers’ defense is too good to fall victim to such a method and let Anthony takeover games.
The Knicks have plenty of other offensive options capable of spreading Indiana’s defensive attention, but the shots simply aren’t falling. What’s more, an array of Knickerbockers simply aren’t displaying the same type of aggression they put forth earlier in the year. As they fail to make the Pacers pay, what does Indiana have to be afraid of?
J.R. Smith’s offensive prowess checked out midway through the Knicks/Celtics series and has yet to return. Now scoreless through seven contests, Jason Kidd has been unable to help the Knicks spread the floor. As previously noted, Tyson Chandler’s lack of aggression on both ends of the floor has set quite the feeble tone for his team.
Raymond Felton has been scoring the basketball quite efficiently, but even he has failed to attack the basket much against Indiana. Such an absence in his game plan is strange considering how well it suited the point guard against Boston.
As much as the handful of Knicks are struggling, it’s up to Mike Woodson to make adjustments. With his team struggling in the playoffs, clearly their entire season is on the line. Is it a smart decision to play the waiting game and hope that the streaky Smith breaks out his slump? With Pablo Prigioni previously providing a massive spark in game two, is it worth sitting him all but four minutes in a contest in favor of Kidd?
When players like Smith and Kidd are hot, spacing them around the perimeter forces the Pacers’ defense to stay honest and guard them (thus pulling other potential defenders away from Anthony). When neither player is a threat, however, Indiana is free to swarm Anthony as the sole offensive threat.
The value of having shooters surround Anthony on the court was proven in the minimal time Coach Woodson opted to play Chris Copeland and Steve Novak on the court. Each player knocked down an impressive bomb from long range. If Anthony is being double-teamed, either of those players stand to be left open. It’s good strategy.
The only time Woodson opted to find out how effective that same strategy could really be, the game was out of reach. Playing each sharpshooter and watching them thrive in minimal minutes simply added insult to injury.
What’s perhaps more frustrating than anything else, however, is how close both recent losses have been. The Pacers, too, have struggled offensively. All that’s been needed from the Knicks has been a few defensive stops and a run here or there to swing the momentum. As poorly as New York continues to play, the games are still in reach.
But taking control requires potential adjustments. Should Coach Woodson opt to stand pat and allow his team to ride and/or die with the offense of players like Smith and Kidd, their postseason run will come to an end much quicker than anyone had expected.