The Knicks-Pacers series was always going come down to who blinked first.
The Knicks won 54 games in the regular season playing a small-ball style that relied heavily on the three-pointers and Carmelo Anthony’s dominance as an undersized power forward.
The Pacers won 49 games with a league-best defence that featured two traditional big men in Roy Hibbert and David West.
The stylistic contrast couldn’t be clearer. Everyone knew that whichever team forced its opponent to adjust was going to have the upper hand.
And tonight, the Knicks blinked first — scrapping the small-ball style that helped them to their best regular season record in 20 years, and making adjustments that played right into Indiana’s hands.
The Pacers won 93-82 in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score indicated. They now lead 3-1 and have a chance to end the series Thursday night in New York.
Much of the talk after the game has been about the Knicks’ dramatic adjustments.
Coach Mike Woodson essentially benched Pablo Prigioni and Iman Shumpert, playing them just 19 minutes combined.
Coming into the game, Prigioni and Shumpert had been two of NY’s four best players (along with Anthony and Raymond Felton) in this series, and this postseason.
Prigioni had been averaging 5 points and 3 assists in 22 minutes per game during the playoffs. He had one of the team’s best on court/off court net ratings, and was a key ball-mover to find the open man on the perimeter. He only played three minutes.
Shumpert had been averaging 9 points and 7 rebounds in 30 minutes per game during the playoffs while shooting 44% from three. He played 16 minutes.
With JR Smith utterly lost in a shooting slump, Tyson Chandler getting destroyed by Roy Hibbert, and Jason Kidd looking old, Shumpert and Prigioni were the lone bright spots for the Knicks before Game 4.
It’s stunning that they were the guys who had their minutes reduced.
In addition to slashing the minutes for those two guards, Woodson significantly changed his starting lineup and subsequent rotations. He moved Carmelo to small forward, inserted Kenyon Martin, and relied on a big lineup that could do none of the things that made the team successful during the regular season.
The idea behind the move was that the Knicks desperately needed more defence and rebounding, so it’d be worth it to sacrifice the offensive boost you get by playing Carmelo at the 4.
But tonight Indiana out rebounded New York by 18, rebounded a stunning 35% of their misses on offence, and still scored a respectable 92 points in a slow-paced game.
Basically, the Knicks went away from their basic small-ball offence to try and get more defence and rebounding, and ended up with none of the above.
After the game, Indiana coach Frank Vogel said, “The beauty of this team is that we don’t really adjust to other teams. We do what we do.”
The Knicks did the exact opposite of that, completely changing everything they do in the most important game of the year.
Indiana hasn’t just built a 3-1 series lead with their stifling defence, they’ve managed to completely disassemble the Knicks — forcing them to abandon the very things that shaped their identity all year long.
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