If the New York Knicks thought the road to the Eastern Conference Finals would be a smooth ride following their tough fought series against the Boston Celtics, the Indiana Pacers quickly dispelled them of that notion and reminded them that it only gets harder from here on.
Indiana’s big front-court bullied the Knicks and stole home-court advantage by winning 102-95. The Pacers trio of Paul George, Roy Hibbert and David West combined for 53 points, and more importantly, they out-rebounded New York 44-30, leaving the Knicks with questions as to how they need to adjust for Tuesday’s pivotal second game.
Prior to the game head coach Mike Woodson admitted keeping the Pacers off the boards would be vital in allowing the Knicks to play their favored up-tempo game.
“You know, they’re big. They’ve got big personnel,” said Woodson. “Any game that you play in, you’ve got to rebound the basketball. If you defend and rebound most games you’ll put yourself in a position to win.”
For long stretches of Sunday’s game though it was the Pacers who had carte blanche to do whatever they pleased in the paint. They outscored the Knicks 46-32 from inside the key. New York downplayed the notion that Indiana were too physical, Woodson maintains he will not have too many adjustments to make.
“I thought they played harder than our team tonight; that was the difference. We didn’t start playing until we got down,” said the coach.
Carmelo Anthony, the team’s leader, said the Knicks effort just wasn’t there.
“I didn’t think it was physical out there today,” said Anthony who struggled with his shot once again, finishing with 27 points on 10/28 shooting. “They just outworked us. I’ve been in more physical games.
“They beat us on the glass, they beat us to all the loose balls out there, the hustle plays. They outworked us.”
Compounding the Knicks’ struggle with the Pacers front-court is the continued shooting slump of Anthony, and just as importantly, J.R. Smith. He hit just 4 of his 15 shot attempts, a lot of times reverting to the “old” Smith and settling for a contested jumper.
Coach Woodson refused to lay blame on his two offensive weapons, saying that a cumulative team effort was required to grind out wins against this Indiana team.
“We’ve got to get better across the board for us to get out of this series,” he said. “There’s some things we need to clean up as a group and get better come Tuesday.”
A player that would most certainly be able to help the Knicks right now, Amar’e Stoudemire, is hoping to return on Saturday. He will return to full-contact drills this Thursday and Friday – if he clears that hurdle, Woodson said the power forward could play in Game 3 in Indianapolis. His return would boost New York’s interior scoring giving them a second option behind Anthony.
The Knicks need to improve, for the first time this playoffs they are playing from behind. They don’t want to head to Indiana in 0-2 hole.
AP Photo/Kathy Willens