The Indiana Pacers elite defense will face off with the New York Knicks high-powered offense in the Eastern Conference Semifinals after both squads dispatched their first-round opponents in six games.
The Pacers surrendered just 90.7 points per game during the regular season (ranked second in the NBA). Led by Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith, the Knicks scored 100 points per game during the 2012-13 campaign (ranked 11th in the league), making for an intriguing matchup.
The last time these two franchises met up in the postseason was more than a decade ago, when Indiana (coached by Larry Bird) beat the Knicks in the Eastern Conference Finals, 4-2.
Seeds: New York Knicks No. 2; Indiana Pacers No. 3
Records: New York Knicks 54-28; Indiana Pacers 49-32
Season series: Teams split 2-2
Playoff schedule: Game 1 Sunday, May 5, 3:30 p.m. ET (ABC), Game 2 Tuesday, May 7, 7 p.m. ET (TNT), Game 3 Saturday, May 11, 8 p.m. ET (ABC), Games 4-7 TBD
What Everybody’s Talking About: Offense vs. Defense
The Knicks and Pacers played to a 2-2 split during the regular season, which sums up how evenly matched these two teams are. New York brings great offense while Indiana brings tenacious defense. On a game-to-game basis, anything can happen between these two squads.
A major component to look out for will be New York’s outside shooting squaring off with Indy’s great perimeter defense. Kyle Korver of the Atlanta Hawks was absolutely stifled in the first round. He made just 12 of 34 threes (35.3 percent) and scored more than 12 points just once (when he had 19 points in Game 4).
If the Pacers can continue to lock down on outside shooters, the Knicks will be fighting an uphill battle.
What Nobody’s Talking About: Indiana’s Legitimacy
Indiana looked downright ugly in the Game 3 loss to the Atlanta Hawks. The Pacers scored just 69 points on an abysmal 27.2 percent shooting from the field.
That was a dreadful performance that can't be ignored, but Indy has one of the most formidable rosters in the entire NBA. Keep in mind, this familiar core of players took the mighty Miami Heat to six games last summer. That’s no small task as an underdog.
If the Pacers lock down on defense against the Knicks and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals, they have an outside chance at beating Miami.
Less than one month ago, the Knicks and Pacers faced off for the final time during the regular season.
On April 14, the Knicks handled their business against Indy with a leisurely 90-80 win. Anthony poured in his usual stats with 25 points, but Chris Copeland provided a big spark for New York with 20 points off the bench.
With so many players on the Knicks roster able to step up offensively, the Pacers can’t afford to get complacent.
Key Matchup: Carmelo Anthony vs. Paul George
Were you expecting anything different?
The 2013 NBA scoring champion will square off with one of the league’s most skilled perimeter defenders.
Although it was partly a consequence of playing on an elite defensive team, George led the entire NBA with 6.3 defensive win shares during the regular season. That was nearly a full defensive win share better than 2013 Defensive Player of the Year Award winner Marc Gasol (5.4).
Make no mistake; Anthony is going to get his points. He did so consistently over the span of 67 games for the Knicks this season. That does not mean, however, that this matchup won’t be a one-on-one battle for the ages.
The 22-year-old George is out to prove that he belongs with the NBA’s elite stars (even though he may have proved that already).
If you’re a fan of the X’s and O’s instead of Anthony’s isolation offense, keep tabs on the coaching battle between Mike Woodson and Frank Vogel. Both of those guys know how to get the best out of their players. The outcome of this series could very well come down to a chess match between the two.