>> Typically, I like to start these postgame blogs by pointing out the one or two players, or possibly moments, that played the biggest part in the outcome. This time, however, I am yielding the floor to a voice from the opposition, because Carmelo Anthony summed up this game pretty succinctly: “You take out the Xs and Os of the game, they flat-out played harder than we did today. That was the key to their victory. They outplayed and outworked us. There is nothing else that needs to be said about that.”
>> The strongest indicator of just how hard the Pacers have worked in winning their last three playoff games is this: they held a 44-30 advantage on the boards, running their three-game total to 148-93, an average advantage of 18.3.
>> This was one of the most impressive total team performances in weeks by the Pacers. Of the nine guys that played, eight made major contributions offensively. As for the ninth? Well, Sam Young contributed, just not for the Pacers. And the defense did what has become its usual number on the Knicks. The most prolific 3-point attack in NBA history has hit just .276 against the Pacers in five meetings this season. The Knicks were 7-for-19 in Game 1, a respectable percentage (.368) but low volume for a team that averages nearly 30 attempts.
>> If you had to single out a game MVP, it would have to be Roy Hibbert. He badly outplayed New York’s Tyson Chandler with 14 points, eight rebounds, four assists and five blocks and jealously protected the rim, making life very difficult for the Knicks that tried to go on the attack. Frank Vogel said Hibbert was “sensational” around the rim. Knicks Coach Mike Woodson pulled no punches: “I thought Hibbert played better tonight. I have to get Tyson playing better than Hibbert. It is a team but these are matchups we have to do better at.”
>> David West had his third straight game of at least 20 points, and it’s no coincidence all three were Pacers wins. Paul George had solid numbers (19 points, five rebounds, four assists) but struggled again with his shot on the road (5-for-14) and committed four turnovers. George Hill couldn’t buy a 3-pointer (2-for-9) and wound up shooting 5-for-17 but had 14 points, seven rebounds and six assists.>> And then there were the two unsung heroes: Lance Stephenson and D.J. Augustin.
>> Stephenson has been a quiet monster lately, racking up 53 rebounds in the last five games, including a game-high 13 Sunday. In the last four, he has averaged 9.3 points, 11.3 rebounds and 7.0 assists while shooting .524. The key to the rebounding surge? Vogel recently asked Stephenson to stop leaking out so often in transition in order to support the bigs on the glass.
>> Augustin had the best game by a reserve in the postseason, racking up 16 points on 5-for-6 shooting, including 4-for-5 from the 3-point line. It was his highest output since scoring 18 against Charlotte on Jan. 12, and the most for a Pacers bench player since Gerald Green scored 20 at Cleveland on March 18. One of the reasons Vogel switched to a three-guard rotation was to expand Augustin’s role and this response was a very positive sign.
>> As for the game itself, the Pacers dominated the second and third quarters 59-38 to take an 81-65 lead into the fourth. The Knicks picked up their energy and tried to rally behind Anthony, who scored 15 in the fourth quarter despite playing most of the period with five fouls (funny how that works) but could get no closer than 101-95 on a pair of free throws by J.R. Smith with 50.7 seconds left. Augustin then made his only mistake of the game, missing an early 3-point attempt with 15 seconds left on the shot clock but Smith countered with a wild 3-pointer of his own and that was that.
>> As usual, the Pacers made Anthony and Smith work hard for their points. Anthony scored 27, but needed 28 shots (making just 10). Smith scored 17 on 15 attempts. Against the Pacers this season, Anthony has shot .372 overall with 93 points on 94 shots, while Smith has shot .351 with 75 points on 77 attempts. They also had tunnel vision, combining for just three assists. If you aren’t shooting well and aren’t creating for your teammates, what are you doing? Losing the game.
>> Hibbert had an interesting story about a critical adjustment that was made at halftime. Raymond Felton had a big first half, scoring 14 points as the Knicks repeatedly succeeded with the high pick-and-roll that has troubled the Pacers in recent weeks because it exploits Hibbert’s preference for sagging to protect the rim. “I told my guys, if I am not doing something right, just don’t let it slide. You have to hold people accountable,” Hibbert said. “When we walked to the locker room and George Hill looked at me in the face and said, ‘get the hell up on the screens.’ I don’t take offense to it, we are trying to win.” Felton scored four points in the second half.
>> Will the Knicks, like the Hawks before them, try to go big in order to combat the Pacers’ size advantage inside? Their only real option in that regard is to start Kenyon Martin at power forward, which would strip the bench of its only reliable frontcourt presence. They may regain the services of Amar’e Stoudemire for Game 3. He’s trying to come back earlier than expected from knee surgery and will practice during the three-day break between Game 2 Tuesday and Game 3 Saturday. Steve Novak, a 3-point specialist off the bench who sat out Sunday with back spasms, may also return within the next two games.