It's no secret that Carmelo Anthony has struggled through the New York Knicks' first seven playoff games. The league's leading scorer is still getting his points (28.9 per game, to be exact), but he's struggling badly with his shot.
He's made only 37.8 percent of his attempts and just 26.3 percent of his three-pointers in the playoffs. He has yet to make better than 50 percent of his shots in a single game, and despite averaging just over 22 shots a night during the regular season, he has yet to shoot fewer than 23 times in any playoff game.
As I wrote about at length last week, a major problem Carmelo had in the first round was operating in isolation too often and pulling up for too many jump shots when he did so. Boston's preferred matchup for Melo was Brandon Bass—a burly power forward that has the foot speed to stay with a new-age small-ball 4 like Carmelo or LeBron James, whom he guarded for stretches in last year's playoffs.
The Knicks treated that matchup as a blinking green light to clear out for Melo either on the wing or at the elbow.
When the Knicks ran any isolation play, no matter where it was on the court, the Celtics employed their traditional strong-side overload defense to choke off any and all driving lanes. This forced Carmelo into a cascade of mid-range jumpers, which he continually missed throughout the series.
As you can see, the problem of isolating too often didn't exactly carry over against the Pacers, even if the distribution of jumpers to other types of shots did (and even that really only happened in isolation—12 of his 28 attempts on the afternoon came from inside the restricted area).
Carmelo averaged 14.17 isolations per game in the Boston series, per mySynergySports, but finished only seven of his 33 total plays with an isolation in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. He shot just 2-of-6, but he registered a respectable 0.86 points per play (PPP) on those isolations, just about in line with his season average.
While the Celtics guarded Melo with one of their bigger players, the Pacers mostly guarded him with uber-long small forward Paul George, while cross-matching power forward David West onto Iman Shumpert or the least threatening wing player on the floor. That worked out very well for the Pacers.
George did an outstanding individual job defending Anthony the entire night, but one way the Pacers were able to limit Anthony's success when he did manage to get to the rim was by sending late help.
Whether it was West, George Hill or Lance Stephenson digging down from the perimeter, or Roy Hibbert sliding into the restricted area, the Pacers made sure to get a lot of bodies around the ball when Carmelo was going up with a shot.
As Grantland's Zach Lowe wrote in describing the George/Anthony matchup:
The Pacers will have to send George some help, and if he gets tired or suffers some foul trouble, they’ll have to rearrange their defense for short stretches and slide West onto Anthony. The Pacers don't want to double Anthony hard; they're too scared of New York’s long-range shooting. In Game 1, they had a help defender (typically Hibbert, as he’s near the rim and quite tall) slide over toward Anthony at the last second — and no earlier — as Anthony picked up the ball and readied a shot in the post. They’d occasionally send a help defender down from the perimeter, but only late in the post-up play, when Anthony had already turned toward the basket — and away from his outside shooters — and began his shooting motion.
Melo did manage a post-up basket against George early in the third quarter, and it came as a result of using a move whereby the Pacers would not be able to send help late. Rather than catching the ball and using his strength to back George down, Melo was ready to go into his move by the time he caught the ball, and he quickly spun around George's back and got right to the rim.
As you can see in the top left photo above, Melo caught the ball with eight seconds on the shot clock and was already into his post move. He dunked the ball with seven seconds left on the shot clock before either West or Hibbert could close in on him.
By contrast, in the photo on the bottom left, he caught the ball with his back turned completely to the basket with 16 seconds on the shot clock, then backed George down for six seconds before turning and shooting over his shoulder. This allowed West to dig down from the perimeter as a help defender and gave Hibbert time to slide over into the restricted area from the opposite side of the lane.
Melo had much more success when the Knicks got him the ball on the wing or near the elbow while he was guarded by a bigger, slower defender like West or Tyler Hansbrough.
By running a side pick-and-roll (or really, a "switch places" play) between Anthony and Shumpert, the Knicks were able to get the ball to Anthony against West with a lot of space to operate. On this particular play, Melo was able to back West off for a pull-up jumper with a series of jab steps and a quick crossover, and he similarly and easily brushed off Tyler Hansbrough for a jumper later in the game.
In the video above, the Pacers didn't do a good enough job of sending the ball-handler—Raymond Felton—back toward the baseline and allowed him to access the middle of the court. This drew help from all over, and Shumpert got a wide-open three on the weak side.
Late in the game, Anthony also found scoring success as a high pick-and-roll ball-handler. While the Pacers shut down his jumper out of the pick-and-roll early in the game, he was able to give himself more space when he came off the screen in the fourth quarter by attacking early in the shot clock before the Indiana defense set itself and could "down" the screen.
Because the Pacers like to crash the offensive boards—they ranked fifth in offensive rebound rate during the regular season, according to HoopData—and because they are cross-matching at the small and power forward spots, they can be had if you can catch them in delayed transition, as Anthony did twice in the video above.
While it was another poor shooting performance (he made just 10 of his 28 field-goal attempts), Game 1 gave far more reason for Anthony-related optimism than any of the last few games of the Boston series.
First, he attacked the basket far more aggressively than he did in the first round, and if he continues to do so, he'll finish a better percentage of his shots and draw more fouls.
Early in the game, the Knicks used the snug pick-and-rolls to generate looks for Carmelo, for other ball-handlers and for spot-up shooters.
Melo found personal success late in the game both out of the post and in the pick-and-roll. By attacking George quickly out of the post, he ensures that the help defense will have to come earlier or not at all, which will create better looks for both Melo and his teammates.
By turning the corner off a ball screen early in the shot clock before the defense is set, he can find more openings than if he waits and lets the Pacers play him to a certain spot on the court.
It's all much harder than it sounds against the fantastic Indiana defense, but a few tweaks and some better shooting luck could get Carmelo back to form pretty soon.