If New York stands to have a chance against the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, they’ll need improved play in the middle by their big men. In Game 1 of the series, the Pacers man-handled the Knicks in the paint en route to a seven-point victory.
One of the biggest reasons the Knicks have struggled in this department is because Tyson Chandler has not played like himself of late. The 2012 Defensive Player of the Year had a very solid regular season, but so far in the playoffs he simply has not performed to his best ability.
Part of the reason behind this is Indiana’s ability to work the ball down low and utilize their frontcourt players often. Power forward David West and center Roy Hibbert proved to be too much in Game 1. The two combined for 34 points, 12 rebounds and six assists on 14-of-24 shooting.
If they continue to put up numbers like this, the series will be over before the Knicks know it.
Tyson Chandler’s biggest issue in the first game was foul trouble; New York’s defensive leader only played 28 minutes because Indiana was able to get the ball into the paint too easily and cause problems.
In his limited time on the floor, Chandler was only able to snag three rebounds and four points. The Knicks will need Chandler to be on the court as much as possible because he’s the only one on the roster who can matchup with Indiana’s size.
There also has been speculation that Chandler isn’t as healthy as he could be—he has been recovering from the flu and is struggling with a bulging disk in his neck.
After the Game 1 defeat, Chandler discussed his physical matchup with Hibbert in ESPN New York’s Jared Zwerling’s piece.
"He attacks the glass. They run a lot of sets for him to duck in and to get to his hook shot. I need to do a better job of keeping him out of his sweet spot," Chandler said.
The reason New York is so reliant on Chandler on the defensive end is the lack of depth at the position and big men in general. Marcus Camby is too old to really be a factor, and even though Kenyon Martin brings a lot of energy, he’s too small to matchup with the Pacers’ bigs.
The positive news for the Knicks is that they may have help on the way. According to reports, Amar’e Stoudemire will return from knee surgery and play in Game 3 in Indiana.
Although some Knicks fans may be skeptical of Stoudemire’s return helping team chemistry, there’s no doubt that he will immediately help their presence in the paint.
If the Knicks can play better team defense and keep the Pacers from controlling the middle of the key, they’ll be able to win the game and extend the series.