Contrary to what the final score (105-79) would suggest, the Indiana Pacers did, in fact, hold a lead over the New York Knicks in Game 2 of the 2013 Eastern Conference Semifinals. The visitors' last advantage came with 3:28 left in the third quarter, when George Hill nailed a three-pointer off a pass from Lance Stephenson to put the Pacers up 64-62.
Indy would score once more, on a pair of David West free throws, over the next 10:40. By the time Tyler Hansbrough stepped to the line to knock down two more freebies, the Knicks had poured in 30 points of their own—including the first 20 from either team in the fourth quarter. It solidified an insurmountable 26-point lead and all but secured a much-needed victory at Madison Square Garden to even their first second-round series in 13 years at one game apiece.
That impressive run emanated from the same source that gives rise to any sustained success in the NBA and has, at times, been the bedrock of New York's own triumphs: the defensive end. Carmelo Anthony kicked things off by picking Paul George's pocket and driving in for a layup. Just over a minute later, Kenyon Martin (who looks remarkably like 'Melo on TV, with his headband and sleeves and all) followed suit with a steal-and-score by way of an off-the-backboard lob from Raymond Felton.
The Knicks would force three more turnovers—and score six more points off said turnovers—before their run was done. New York's smothering defense contributed heavily to Indy's 0-of-12 shooting performance during that crucial stretch. The Knicks clogged the paint, forcing the Pacers (15th in three-point attempts and 22nd in three-point percentage during the regular season) to continue jacking up threes.
And as New York's lead grew, so did Indy's urgency to score and, in turn, its proclivity for three-point shots. Seven of the Pacers' 12 misses during that all-important stretch were from beyond the arc, including Pablo Prigioni's packing of a Paul George three at the eight-minute mark of the fourth.
Of course, the Knicks' defensive efforts wouldn't have been quite so devastating without the weaponry they deployed on the other end. Carmelo Anthony, in particular, had himself a field day, with 16 points on 6-of-9 from the floor—including 2-of-3 from left wing (i.e. one of his sweet spots)—in the 7:52 of playing time he saw between the final portion of the third quarter and the middle of the fourth.
'Melo fed off the giving spirits of Jason Kidd and Pablo Prigioni, each of whom assisted on an Anthony jumper therein. He also fed off his own energy, both on the glass and on the perimeter while playing honest-to-goodness defense.
But, more than anything, Anthony, like his Knicks teammates, fed off the electricity of an ecstatic crowd at MSG, one that'd spent most of Game 1 (and portions of Game 2) with hands under seats and lips zipped.
The formula (tough team defense, hot shooting from Anthony, plenty of three-pointers) was a familiar one for these Knicks. They'd followed it to a tee early on during the regular season, when they jumped out to an 18-5 start and strung together 13 straight wins between mid-March and early April.
Which team will win Game 3?
That very same combination was on pitch-perfect display during the 30-2 run in Game 2 and will need to make another cameo at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis if the Knicks are to crack their first Eastern Conference Finals since the turn of this century. The Pacers were one of the NBA's best home teams this season, with a 30-11 record and a net rating of 8.8 points per 100 possessions under their own roof.
Indy's home advantage was particularly pronounced against the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of these playoffs. The Pacers scored a whopping 116.8 points per 100 possessions while limiting the Hawks to 98.8 in Games 1, 2 and 5 in the building that formerly bore the Conseco name (not to be confused with the Canseco name).
The Knicks, for their part, left town with losses in each of their trips to Indy. The first came in an 81-76 affair, from which Carmelo Anthony abstained on account of a suspension. The second was even more forgettable: a 125-91 embarrassment in which nearly all of New York's principals (save for Kenyon Martin) participated.
Amar'e Stoudemire came off the bench in both of those defeats and may well be back in action in time for Game 3, after recovering from yet another knee operation (via Howard Beck of The New York Times):
Amare still trying to regain conditioning, but says he expects to be available for Game 3, barring any setbacks this week.— Howard Beck (@HowardBeckNYT) May 6, 2013
Stoudemire should give the Knicks a nice lift of the bench, assuming he has lift of any kind left in his legs after the long layoff. And, so long as he doesn't disrupt whatever it is New York established during those nearly 11 minutes that turned a tenuous lead for the Pacers into laugher in the Knicks' favor Tuesday night.