A year ago, the underdog Pacers, seeded third in the East, held a 2-1 lead on the second-seeded Miami Heat and had the chance to take a stranglehold on the series in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Tuesday, the underdog Pacers, seeded third in the East, hold a 2-1 lead on the second-seeded New York Knicks and have the chance to take a stranglehold on the Eastern Conference semifinal series in Game 4 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Now, if they can just keep J.R. Smith away from Tom Crean, things might work out this time.
Last year, struggling Miami star Dwyane Wade met with Crean, his former college coach at Marquette, after scoring five points on 2-for-13 shooting as the Pacers won Game 3. He promptly scored 30 in Game 4, providing previously missing support for LeBron James, who scored 40. The Pacers lost the game and ultimately the series.
Smith has likewise been failing in his supporting role for Carmelo Anthony, who has averaged 26.7 points and 8.3 rebounds for the Knicks. Smith, on the other hand, has averaged just 11.3 on 11-for-42 shooting (.262), including 3-for-16 from the arc. The good news for the Pacers is that Smith doesn’t have a college coach to fall back upon, since he entered the NBA straight from prep school.
Making sure last year’s scenario does not repeat is paramount for the Pacers. They struggled after taking a 2-0 lead in the first round against Atlanta, losing the next two games before closing out the series, and must show they have indeed learned to cope with success, to prove that they are, once and for all, ready for prime time.
“Our next step in growth for this franchise is our ability to maintain an edge after a playoff win,” Coach Frank Vogel said. “We struggled a little bit with that in the last series. We have a 2-1 lead. We can’t get comfortable with that. We have to come out hungrier than they are.”
Manufacturing that hunger is the major challenge. The Knicks can be expected to play with urgency and desperation because that reflects their position. As the team in the position of advantage, the Pacers must believe otherwise.
“A series can change in one game, so we’re not overreacting to the win we had the other night,” David West said. “We know they’re a great basketball team, they’re coached well so they’re going to come with a different type of fire, different passion, they’re going to make some adjustments. We just have to be ready to handle them.
“We haven’t accomplished anything. Our objective is when we have home court to maintain home court and we’re halfway there right now.”
What are the other keys to their ability to finish that particular job? Read on.
>> Don’t pass up open shots, even if they’re threes.
The most surprising development of this series is the Pacers outscoring the Knicks 78-60 from the 3-point line. Indiana’s offensive identity is to pound away inside with big men West and Roy Hibbert, while the Knicks were the most prolific 3-point shooting team in NBA history during the regular season. The Pacers hoisted 33 in Game 3, making 10, and will do so again if New York’s defense continues to make quality looks available. “There’s more hell to pay if you don’t take that shot,” West said, “than if you take it and miss it.”
>> Be ready for anything from the Knicks
New York Coach Mike Woodson has a number of buttons to push, including playing more zone defense, changing the starting lineup and bench rotations, but the most important adjustment for the Knicks is to regain their offensive tempo. Other than that burst that turned around Game 2, they’ve largely played walk-it-up basketball, which is not their style. The Pacers need to be braced for a full-court onslaught.
>> Rebounds mean rings
The Pacers have outrebounded opponents by an average of 14.7 per game in their six playoff wins, including a 27-board edge on the Knicks in Games 1 and 3, outscoring them 40-20 on second-chance points. New York won the board, and the game, in Game 2. That’s no coincidence. This is where the Pacers’ bigs can, and must, be the most dominant.