Less than two days after tough first-round, Game 6 victories, the Knicks and Pacers will jump it up Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
“Looks like we have to get our hard hats back on, because we’ve got a game in less than 48 hours,” Pacers guard George Hill said minutes after the team’s win on Friday.
It will be a “hard-hat series.”
The Pacers surrendered 88.8 ppg in their six-game triumph over the Atlanta Hawks on Friday. The Knicks were even better in their six-game advancement. They held the offensively-pathetic Boston Celtics to an average of 82.3 ppg.
These playoff runs were reminiscent of the battles the two teams had a little over a decade ago.
The Knicks and Pacers met three times in the postseason over a four-year span. The last time the two sides duked it out in the playoffs was in 2000. The Pacers dispatched the Knicks in six games to advance to the NBA Finals.
That playoff run was the last time the Knicks won a postseason series until Friday. After a 3-0 lead against the Boston Celtics, the Knicks lost two in a row and even withstood a 20-0 run in the second half of Game 6 to advance.
There was even a “funeral” where the Knicks dressed in black before Game 5 in Madison Square Garden. Throwing dirt on the Celtics at that point proved premature, but New York took care of business a few nights later.
Not that they are touting their accomplishment.
“We haven’t done anything,” said backup big man Kenyon Martin. “We have a tough opponent in Indiana. We’re staying humble.”
The Pacers ended a long losing streak in Atlanta in their Game 6. Indiana hadn’t won in Atlanta since 2006 before squashing the Hawks on Friday.
“I’m very proud of our guys to come in here — a tough place to win, particularly tough place for us to win,” said Pacers coach Frank Vogel. “It’s good to end that streak but more importantly, it’s good to advance.”
The Knicks have gone 6-5 over the Pacers since the start of the 2010-11 season. New York is 4-1 at home over the Pacers during that time and Indiana is 4-2 in its own building.
BACKCOURT: The Knicks’ Raymond Felton was New York’s second-leading scorer in the Celtics series. He improved his scoring almost 5.0 points per game and, at times, appeared to be the Knicks best player. Pablo Prigioni was inserted into the starting lineup late in the season and the team took off. He’s a great defender and, at 22 minutes per game, almost anything you get from him offensively is gravy. Prigioni shot 42 percent from the 3-point line in the quarterfinals.
George Hill is a great scoring point guard. He’s not a sensational facilitator of the offense. Lance Stephenson is out there for his defense. Edge: New York
FRONTCOURT: Carmelo Anthony led the NBA in scoring. He is going to finish in the top five in MVP voting. When the offense sputters, or things go bad, Anthony takes the ball. When he’s shooting well, like Game 6 when he put the game out of reach, the Knicks are awesome. When he’s not shooting well, losses happen. Iman Shumpert was a revelation in the Boston series, shooting 52 percent from long range. He is a disruption defensively. Same can be said for last season’s Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler, whose scoring numbers were cut in half in the playoffs.
“They have a great core of bigs,” said Knicks swingman J.R. Smith.
He was talking about Indiana and he wasn’t lying.
The Pacers’ front line of All-Star Paul George, David West and Roy Hibbert is one of the game’s best. They score, as the three combined for 49.7 ppg against the Hawks. They rebound (24.1), they defend and they are physical. Indiana’s front line also helped anchor the second-best defense in the NBA during the regular season. Edge: Indiana (slight)
BENCH: The Knicks have the Sixth Man of the Year winner in Smith. Jason Kidd plays big minutes off the Knicks bench as does Martin. Steve Novak is a lights out shooter. Indiana relies basically on D.J. Augustin, Tyler Hansbrough and Ian Mahinmi as their key reserves. Edge: New York
COACHING: Mike Woodson has a lot of veteran leadership to help him with the Knicks. However, they made some curious decisions during the Celtics series, including the “funeral,” which was silly and dumb, but it made the papers. Woodson had to waste time talking about it. His offense gets stagnant at times, especially when things go bad, but Woodson has a good handle on this group. When they defend like they did at the beginning of the season, we are talking about an elite team.
Vogel was the right man for the job. When he took over the Pacers, the players fell in love with him. He has less talent to work with than Woodson does, but he maximizes what he has. Defense is the mantra in Indianapolis. Edge: Even.
PREDICTION: There were parts of the Celtics series that were disturbing for the Knicks. The funeral thing didn’t play in New York the way it did in Dallas, where Kidd and Chandler said they did it every chance they could.
“We learned a lot about our team,” Kidd said after beating the Celtics in Game 6.
The bruising front line of the Pacers will work well since the Knicks employ Anthony at the “power” forward spot. But West may have to cover Anthony on the other end and that’s a huge mismatch in New York’s favor.
Depth is going to be an issue. That’s not even a fair fight since the Pacers really go two-deep off the pine. Homecourt won’t mean a ton. Both teams have won at the other’s arenas enough in recent history.
If Shumpert continues to be a presence, like he was against Boston, he can disrupt George. That will be a critical matchup for the Pacers.
The fact is, the Knicks are slightly better. They can defend, not at Indiana’s level, but well enough. And the Knicks’ offense is way better than the Pacers’. They should be able to score enough.
Prediction: New York in 7 games.