By CHRIS GOFF
Keys to the Series
In what probably will be a low-scoring series, Knicks players say they want to get up and down the floor. New York accomplishes that largely by forcing live-ball turnovers; only three teams in the NBA were better at pressuring opposing offenses into mistakes. Therefore, Indiana must hang onto the ball, avoid careless passes and reset the offense when in doubt. From the Pacers’ point of view, they must make everything tough for Carmelo Anthony and challenge his shots, and they must answer New York’s inevitable outside shooting with some 3-point bombs of their own. Indiana is the best defensive team in the NBA, so they’ll want to keep scores below the century mark. Rope all of those aims together, and the larger picture comes into focus: Whichever team has the more crisp ball movement is likely to win the series.
A deadly perimeter defense that limited opposing 3-point shooters to a league-best 32.7 percent conversion rate. The Pacers also led the NBA in opponent 3-point makes and were second in attempts.
Paul George has finally found a comfort zone in the playoffs with a starring role, while David West and George Hill provide invaluable postseason experience and continue to thrive on the big stage.
The starting lineup, anchored by Roy Hibbert’s late-season offensive rebirth, is one of the deepest in overall quality of any of the teams left in the postseason, especially with Lance Stephenson acquitting himself well in the first round.
In West, Hill and Hibbert, the Pacers send out their best trio of versatile, positive leaders since the glory years under Larry Bird. George said everybody on the team gets along. That’s crucial because the Pacers are going to have stick together in Games 1 and 2 and possibly Games 5 and 7 on the road.
With Gerald Green now back in the doghouse, the only perimeter reserve (potentially) is the former non-tendered Bobcat D.J. Augustin.
Against the Hawks in the quarterfinals, the Pacers got by with shaky defense at times, but will need to get much better contribution from the ancillary defenders on their team: Stephenson, West and Tyler Hansbrough. Green, if he plays, comes off a rocky opening round on D.
A relentless, diversified offense, featuring speed and ballhandling in the backcourt with Raymond Felton and Pablo Prigioni and a lethal duo of high-octane scorers in J.R. Smith and Anthony in the middle of the floor. The Knicks ranked first in turnover ratio, third in points per possession and fourth in 3-point percentage in the NBA this year. With their small-ball approach, the Knicks space the floor as well as any team in the league.
Head-to-head this year, the Knicks won the turnover battle against Indiana 76-49, and won two of the three games in which Anthony played.
The late-season addition of Kenyon Martin (12.4 points per game in his career against the Pacers) is a big boost behind starting center Tyson Chandler, who played just 28.5 minutes per game against Boston in the last round, teaming up with Anthony to try to defend the interior against a rugged Indiana team.
The defense is fairly vulnerable. Frequent switching will create mismatches and the Knicks were 24th in the 30-team NBA at keeping opponents off the foul line.
The two primary offensive weapons, Anthony and Smith, carry an enormous burden — they combined to score 41 percent of the total points in the regular season.
Other than Anthony, there’s not a lot of healthy low-post scoring.
THE PICK – PACERS IN SIX
Believe it or not, this is a series Indiana should expect to win. Certainly, the Pacers must do a better job of getting back in transition than they did in the first round and they can’t count on the Knicks self-destructing the way the Hawks did. But Indiana comes to this party as one of the best defensive teams of the modern era, and that is a tremendous help in tense, pressurized playoff basketball. Granted, the Knicks are much more potent offensively than the Pacers. Granted, New York’s defense has stepped it up a notch in the playoffs, thanks to the improved health of Chandler. And, yes, the Knicks hold the all-important home-court advantage, which could be a boon in a series that quite possibly will come down to a seventh game. But for the Pacers to field a defense that dominant and lose this early would be quite a waste.