Many in the media have cast the Indiana vs. New York series as a battle of offense versus defense; specifically, New York’s offense versus the Pacers’ defense. Yes, the Pacers’ physical style proved effective in slowing down the Knicks’ offense. But what nobody saw coming was how hard it was for New York to stop Indiana’s offense.
New York simply had no answers. The Pacers just flat-out shot the ball better, whether it was working it from the strong-side to the weak with good passing, working it inside-out, getting to the free throw line more often and making the free throw shots, grabbing more offensive rebounds or generally winning contested shots.
It was all of the above that contributed to a solid, 102-95 Game 1 victory in New York. They will play Game 2 in New York on Tuesday night.
“Right now they’re just being really physical with him, they’re trying to bang him, they’re trying to frustrate him,” Knicks point guard Raymond Felton said of teammate Carmelo Anthony’s effort against a physical Indiana defense. “But we’re going to be fine, he’s going to be fine.”
Recall that the Pacers allowed the second-fewest points per game during the regular season, in addition to holding opponents to the lowest field goal percentage in the league. And while they are not exactly an offensive powerhouse, they are solid, and not to be taken lightly.
They led New York 59-38 through most of the second and third quarters and had enjoyed a comfortable lead for most of the fourth quarter.
“Just a strong defensive effort and then offensively guys played with great poise,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “Just a complete team effort, very proud of them.”
New York kept the game close for most of the first quarter. But cracks in the armor appeared in the second quarter, as the Pacers got in the zone, shooting 68.8 percent and going on a 10-2 run late in the quarter. They would lead by 6 points at half-time.
Pacers point guard D.J. Augustin stepped up his game, making 5-of-6 shots including 4-of-5 from outside the arc. He finished with 16 points.
Much of Indiana’s success in the third quarter was attributable to strong play by the Pacers $58 million man, Roy Hibbert, who simply outplayed Knicks center Tyson Chandler for 4 quarters. And until the Knicks find a way to get Hibbert out of the paint, nothing will come easy. Hibbert is the type of player who changes everything happening at the rim, with his size and blocking. The Knicks had no answer for that, and could not contain him on offense.
The Knicks had hoped putting Carmelo Anthony on David West would work to their advantage. And while Anthony finished with 28 points, it took 27 shots to make it happen.
The third quarter proved especially difficult for the Knicks, as Indiana began pulling away. The Kicks fell behind has as many as 16 points, and came within 5 points of evening things up.
What we saw on Sunday was no fluke. It was not the exception to the rule. It was business as usual for the Pacers, who are going to defend like this all series. It’s finesse versus physical, size versus style. While it is likely New York will have better games offensively, nothing will come easy versus the size and length of the Pacers.
For the Pacers, they need to continue the type of offensive play they had Sunday night, with an offensive rating of 110.3 (points per 100 possessions), which was significantly above their regular season average of 101.6.
New York has its work cut out trying to find a solution to the Pacers’ front line of Hibbert, West and George. Collectively, they had 53 points and 14 rebounds and won the paint battle 46-32.