Unless the Knicks average height sprouts a few inches over the next 24 hours or so, one thing remains certain entering tomorrow night’s pivotal Game 2 at Madison Square Garden: this has the look of a physical mismatch, advantage Pacers.
Indiana is bigger, stronger and on many levels, tougher, both physically and mentally. That too, probably won’t change throughout the course of this series.
Quite frankly, the only elixir for Mike Woodson’s squad right now is basketball efficiency. Sure, a Kenyon Martin elbow to someone’s grill might spark something, and perhaps Woodson dusts off Marcus Camby and utilizes his length and 6 fouls at times this series. But the bottom line for the Knicks is this: make shots or go home quickly.
While simple on the surface, it has proven elusive ever since his team recklessly and unnecessarily challenged karma toward the end of their first round victory versus the aging and depleted Celtics.
The Pacers you see, are not the Celtics. They are better. Actually, they are much better.
When the Pacers hit the Garden floor tomorrow night, they will have already swiftly stolen home court advantage from the beleaguered Knicks, and their physical advantage will remain unchanged, meaning Roy Hibbert will still be 7’2″ and David West will still be a rugged, no-nonsense forward.
The “rule of verticality” was referenced several times on Sunday as Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks were consistently swatted backwards. At times, it had the look of a sloppy and lopsided early October tune-up for the bigger and stronger Varsity squad against the frustrated JV.
News flash: that’s how Indiana plays, and the refs know it. The Pacers have quietly earned league-wide respect as a tough-minded team with great defensive principles. They rotate hard. They box out aggressively. They challenge when opponents attack the rim. They contest hard on run-outs. They set solid picks and they fight thru ones that are set against them. There’s a reason why the Pacers were a 3 seed rather than say the 7 or 8 seed.
In fact, they were good enough to have the eventual World Champs on the ropes in last year’s 2nd Round, racing out to a 2-1 series lead before eventually falling prey to the most complete basketball player ever to grace the planet: Mr. James.
This season, the retooled Knicks raced out to an incredible start and finished with a flurry, galvanizing the city and waking up the ghosts from the 90′s. They mattered. After playing well versus Miami and the Spurs during the regular season, and winning late at Oklahoma City, New York was viewed as a legit threat by some to Miami’s throne.
The Knicks are dangerous, but the Knicks are volatile and limited. Any time your franchise player lists “making it out of the first round” as a goal, you know things are dicey. Their second best player, J.R. Smith, is quickly morphing back into what we all despised: an unreliable, erratic chucker with zero conscience. (last 3 playoffs games: 3-14 FG, 5-13 FG and 4-15 FG) Their center, though proud and fierce on the defensive end and a leader in the locker room, is a complete zero on the offensive end, creating too many 4-on-5 scenarios. If he doesn’t catch an alley-oop off a pick-and-roll he is a complete non-entity on that end of the floor.
Since it’s the Knicks and Pacers, there’s an underlying narrative that traces back to the fierce battles between Reggie and Starks, the Davis Boys versus Ewing, Oak and Mason. It sounds good, but the 2013 Knicks need to play a completely different brand of basketball, a brand that Pat Riley resisted at every level in the mid-90′s, out of necessity.
Starting tomorrow night, the Knicks need to turn this series into a track meet. While the Pacers are tougher, the Knicks have the edge in the skill department.
If they can’t lace ‘em and run for the next 10-15 days, they’ll have plenty of time to walk back to their sports cars and mansions, lamenting a lost opportunity and an abbreviated playoff run that went awry way too early.
Your move, Knicks.