>> BIG THINGS FROM THE BIGS
Simply put, when David West and Roy Hibbert are productive, the Pacers are a much better offensive team. In five playoff wins, they have combined to average 33 points on 52 percent shooting. In three losses, the numbers have dropped to 25 points and 46 percent.
The Knicks know this, which is why they sent much more aggressive double-teams at them players in Game 2. As a result, West and Hibbert combined for just 14 shots. The challenge for the Pacers is to find ways to get quality looks for West and Hibbert without forcing the action into the teeth of the defense.
“This is not going to be a series where those guys are going to get 20 shots a game,” said Coach Frank Vogel. “They double-team the post on every catch and they don’t leave you on pick-and-rolls. You have to have a share-the-basketball mentality.”
The Pacers must also avoid the allure of the 3-point line. The Knicks would much rather have them jacking up 24-footers than methodically pounding away inside.
>> WIN THE POSSESSION BATTLE
Rebounds and turnovers are the least glamorous part of the game but among the most important, and doubly so for a team like the Pacers that lacks the singular superstar to bail them out when things are going badly.
They’ve been dominant on the boards in their five wins, with an average advantage of 15.4. In their losses, the rebounding battle has been a dead heat (132-131).
They’ve been remarkably careless with the ball in their three losses, averaging 19 turnovers leading to 23.3 points for the opponents. In their wins, the averages have been 14.6 and 12.8.
In Game 2, the Knicks racked up 32 points from 21 Indiana turnovers and won the board 37-35. As a result, the Knicks attempted 23 more shots, a prohibitive advantage.
“For us, that’s kind of been an issue for us throughout the year, when we haven’t been ball-tough and teams have upped their pressure and their aggressiveness on us,” West said. “We’ve just got to be able to take care of the basketball.
“It’s the same M.O. with the Atlanta series. When they were aggressive and we were turning the ball over they won games, when we didn’t we won games. We’ve got to have that same sort of focus this series.”
>> IMBALANCE OF BENCH POWER
While the Knicks will have reinforcements for Game 3 and beyond with the returns of Amar’e Stoudemire and Steve Novak deepening the bench, the Pacers must continue to soldier on with their starters bearing a disproportionately heavy load.
The Iron Five have averaged 37.6 minutes apiece in the first two games. That’s not a huge problem when you have three days off, as was the case this week, but the longer the series goes, the bigger an issue this could become — particularly if the bench continues its pointless play.
“We have to ride them out more than we would during the regular season,” Vogel said. “When we rest guys in these playoff guys, it’s not with the intent of saving them for the next game. It’s with the intent of being sharp in the fourth quarter. The bench guys have to impact the game in a positive way, that way we can keep our starters fresh and we can close the game out stronger.”
Though Stoudemire, out since a procedure on his knee in March, will play a limited role in Game 3, his return gives the Knicks another badly needed big man for a rotation that was perilously thin. Novak, who played five minutes in Game 2 after missing two games with back spasms, should be ready to resume his 3-point specialist role.
Considering the Knicks have enjoyed a 61-43 advantage in bench scoring despite 7-for-30 shooting from NBA Sixth Man award winner J.R. Smith — who missed the Saturday morning shootaround with a high fever and is questionable to play in Game 3 — this looms as a potential major trouble spot for the Pacers (again).
>> FEELING MELO
As important as Paul George’s scoring has been to the Pacers, his defense on Carmelo Anthony is of much greater significance. It’s the head-of-the-snake approach – chop off the head of the New York offense and the body will die.
Anthony was 10-for-28 in the Pacers’ Game 1 victory. He was 13-for-26 and scored 32 in Game 2 and really got rolling late in the third quarter and early in the fourth, when other defenders were assigned.
“I wish I would’ve stayed on him,” said George, who asked Vogel to allow him to shadow Anthony throughout the game.
George also said he would be more aggressive fighting through screens, rather than switching in pick-and-roll defense.