The Knicks beat the Pacers 85-75 last night to force a Game 6 in Indiana on Saturday night.
While New York smartly abandoned many of the things they tried in Game 4 (going big, doubling like mad fools, etc.), it was an ugly performance.
If you just looked at the box score, there’s nothing there that suggests the Knicks can solve Indy’s league-best defence and complete a comeback from 3-1 down.
But the complexion of this series completely changed last night for one reason — the Pacers are a different team without George Hill.
Hill has a concussion. Under NBA rules he has to pass a series of tests before he’s allowed to return, and some are speculating that he could be out for an extended period of time.
Why they’ll miss him:
1. He’s the team’s most reliable ball-handler.
Indiana is turnover-prone to begin with, and things get even worse when Hill isn’t there to steer the offence. They coughed it up 19 times last night. New York isn’t a very good defensive team. But they are 5th in the NBA in forcing turnovers, and their two point guard lineups (especially with Pablo Prigioni) do a good job of harassing opponents on the perimeter.
Lance Stephenson was playing point guard at one point. …. Lance Stephenson should not be playing point guard, ever.
2. He has been abusing Raymond Felton on defence.
Indiana’s stay-at-home defensive scheme has stifled the ball movement that typically leads to wide-open three pointers for the Knicks. So they’ve tried running a ton of pick-and-roll with Felton. Hill has the quickness to stay in front of Felton and the size to disrupt his shots.
Last night Felton had more room to breathe, the Pacers had more breakdowns than normal, and the Knicks managed to scrape together the type of open looks they weren’t getting with Hill on the court.
3. The Pacers are a 5-man team.
This is the biggest thing.
Indiana has one unstoppable 5-man unit. When George Hill, Lance Stephenson, Paul George, David West, and Roy Hibbert play together, they outscored opponents by 12 points per 100 possessions (better than the Miami Heat’s margin). Only three other lineups have logged more than 100 minutes this year, and only one Hill-less lineup has played more than 90 minutes.
That monster 5-man lineup outscored opponents by 284 points in the regular season. Every other lineup combined only outscored opponents by 42 points. In addition, Indiana scored 8 fewer points per 100 possessions when Hill was off the court during the regular season, and gave up 3 more points per 100 possessions on defence. Based on on court/off court efficiency, Hill was Indiana’s most important player this year.
Outside of the resurgent Ian Mahinmi, they have no bench at all. It’s their biggest weakness. When you break up that 5-man unit, they go from a championship-level team to an ordinary one.
The Pacers are still the favourite to win this series. Their defence is still fantastic, and they still have an overall talent advantage.
But the Hill injury changes everything. It gives the Knicks a chance.
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