The New York Knicks looked decidedly lackluster in Game 1, as the Indiana Pacers outshot, out-rebounded and outplayed their way to victory. They even hit more three-pointer than New York, who set records for just that during the regular season.
The Pacers limited the Knicks' dynamic scoring duo of Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith to 14-of-43 from the field as the Madison Square Garden crowd left disappointed yet again.
Anthony admitted that Indiana simply wanted it more in Game 1, saying, "They outplayed and outworked us. There is nothing else that needs to be said about that" (per Frank Isola of the New York Daily News).
As the Knicks avenged that loss in Game 2, several trends emerged, primarily that either of these teams are capable of destroying the other one for sustained periods of play.
All signs point to a knock-down, drag-out, seven-game series reminiscent of their early '90s clashes.
Style of Play
After Indiana limited New York to 65 points through three quarters on Sunday, it became clear that something had to change for the Knicks to continue their playoff run. They promptly improved their shooting and ball movement and smoke the Pacers out of MSG.
The Knicks also proved they can play some tough defense of their own, holding the Pacers without a field goal for over 12 minutes in Game 2. That drought helped spur the Knicks to a 36-4 run in the second half, as they annihilated the Pacers by 20 points in the fourth quarter.
Indiana had shot better than 50 percent from the field for the majority of the game and finally took a two-point lead with 3:28 remaining in the third quarter. New York snuffed that out with a tremendous outburst and proved they weren't going to be outplayed for a second straight game in their building.
The Knicks had obviously recovered from their hangover after outlasting the Boston Celtics in six games. On Tuesday, they forced Indiana into 21 turnovers while committing only seven of their own. The shocking 32-6 margin in points off turnovers equaled the difference in the final score.
The flavors to Games 1 and 2 could not have been more different, and that trend is set to continue for several different reasons.
Regression to the Mean
New York finished third in points scored per 100 possessions while the Pacers offense hiccuped without Danny Granger. Indy ranked 22nd in effective field-goal percentage, which accounts for three-point shots (via ESPN.com), and speaks to their prodigious scoring struggles. Still, the Pacers displayed solid offense for the first seven quarters of the series.
While J.R. Smith has been mired in a 12-of-42 stretch, the Knicks jump-started the offense in Game 2. Carmelo Anthony finally enjoyed an efficient night from the floor, going 13-of-26 as he played through a sore shoulder. But the Knicks offense relies on those two scorers, and either of them can go ice cold at a moment's notice.
Conversely, the Pacers led the league in fewest points allowed per 100 possessions, while New York finished a middling 16th. Indy's defense will keep them in any game and frustrate even the best offense.
But the Knicks showed a knack for ramping up the defensive intensity late in games when they reeled off their 13-game winning streak, and they flashed it in droves on Tuesday night.
With both teams showing inconsistent potency on both sides of the ball, they'll be even enough to go the distance.
After their loss to open the series, Kenyon Martin stated, "Melo has to wrestle and tussle with David West. I don’t think he should have to do that...from the beginning of the game. We got size over there that we can use to our advantage" (per Isola).
Despite K-Mart's chirping about how he should start to match Indiana's size and physicality in the frontcourt, Mike Woodson preserved the status quo in his starting lineup.
And that decision worked out in spades.
After Paul George and David West abused the Knicks' starting forwards in the first game, Iman Shumpert and Carmelo Anthony came up with the solution in Game 2, lighting it up with 47 points.
The Knicks scrapped so hard to even the series, they came out ahead on the glass despite Tyson Chandler and Martin manging just five rebounds.
Though Melo is the best player on the court by a wide margin, he has the onus upon him of having to play great. The Pacers' talent is spread wide enough that any player can have an off night and survive, but Anthony possesses the ability to create scoring opportunities whenever he chooses.
Now, it's just a matter of whether or not his should will hold up. And if J.R. ever wakes up from his long postseason nap, Indy will be left scrambling for solutions.
As the series swings to Indianapolis tied at a game apiece, the two squads seem very equally matched even as they have proved capable of blowing each other out. They will have a bounty of three days off between games, which is plenty of time to pore over all the mistakes so far.
Barring stellar performances by one side, the series looks destined to require all seven games.
The Pacers and Knicks split their season series, with the home team winning each game. After dropping Game 1, New York will have to steal a game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse to get Game 7 back in their own building.
And with their respective makeups keeping the playing field so level, that appears an eventuality.