The 2013 NBA playoffs resumed on Saturday, as the Indiana Pacers dismantled the New York Knicks by a score of 82-71. As a result of its victory, Indiana pulls ahead in the Eastern Conference Semifinals series by a count of 2-1.
During Game 3 specifically, Pacers star Paul George exposed the limitations of 'Melo-ball.
Before we proceed, it's important that we explain just what the term "'Melo-ball" means. This is not just speaking of a heavy reliance, but how the Knicks defer to Carmelo Anthony for their offensive output.
It's all about isolation basketball.
Per Synergy Sports, 27.7 percent of Anthony's possessions have resulted in isolation attempts. Another 20.6 percent led to post-ups, and 14.8 percent resulted in spot-up jump shots.
That accumulates to 63.1 percent of his touches resulting in some form of individual offense.
Clearly, this worked out well enough for Anthony to win the scoring title and the Knicks to finish second in the Eastern Conference. When it comes right down to it, however, New York's reliance upon 'Melo's individual abilities has proven detrimental at times.
Paul George has exposed that during this series.
Carmelo Anthony: shooting 14-41 (34.1%) when guarded by Paul George this series— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 12, 2013
At the end of the day, George's length and athleticism have been the ultimate X-factor in this series.
Why It's Working
Carmelo Anthony is one of the most difficult players to defend in the NBA. He's built like a power forward, agile enough to take his man off of the dribble and, when his jump shot is falling, no defense is enough.
Fortunately for the Pacers, Paul George has figured out how to stop 'Melo before he gets going.
What George, the NBA's Most Improved Player of the Year award winner, has done best is press up on Anthony. Due to his length and athleticism, he's capable of defending Anthony off of the bounce and thus contesting any interior field-goal attempts.
More importantly, George has the luxury of knowing that defensive menace Roy Hibbert has set up shop behind him to contest 'Melo at the rim.
This aggressive approach is the key to containing Anthony, as he's a master at creating space and finishing over defenders. That was on full display during Game 2, as 'Melo went for 32 points on 13-of-26 in the Knicks' win.
Game 3 just wasn't the same story.
Hibbert's combination of length and power is unparalleled, which helps him serve as the ultimate intimidator down low. Due to this truth, Anthony is reasonably reluctant to drive the lane, as Hibbert's prolific shot-blocking skills and bruising approach are none too pleasant to encounter.
This might not be an issue if 'Melo's partner in crime decided to offer some supporting fire.
The J.R. Factor
When a player struggles, it's often easy to place the blame elsewhere and suggest that his woes are a result of the lack of another's presence. In the case of Carmelo Anthony, however, that argument can be made with no bias or sign of flaws.
With J.R. Smith disappearing, 'Melo has faced waves of defensive pressure and carried an even heavier burden than we're accustomed to seeing.
During his first three games of the 2013 NBA playoffs, Smith averaged 16.3 points on 43.5 percent shooting from the floor. Since being suspended for Game 4 of the Knicks' first-round series against the Boston Celtics, however, he just hasn't been the same.
Smith has averaged 12.2 points on 27.5 percent shooting from the field in the five games since he returned from suspension.
Until Smith remembers how to shoot the basketball, Anthony will continue to face this elevated level of pressure from the NBA's second-ranked scoring defense. More importantly, the Knicks will be unable to overcome the Pacers.
Unless the duo that was supposed to lead the Knicks to a championship comes together, that is.
The New York Knicks finished the 2012-13 NBA regular season with an all-time record 891 three-point field goals made. They did so while shooting 37.6 percent from beyond the arc, which ranked fourth in the league.
Unfortunately, the Knicks have run into the one team that can slow them down.
The Pacers held opponents to a league-best 32.7 percent shooting from three-point range during the regular season. They also allowed a league-best 5.4 three-point field goals per contest.
This series has proven the legendary Chuck Daly correct—defense does win championships.
Thus far, the Knicks are shooting 33.3 percent from beyond the arc on an average of 6.7 three-point field goals made per game. That's 4.2 less than their regular-season average and thus displays the ills of 'Melo-ball.
So how can they recover?
For starters, the Knicks must not be afraid to run their offense through the recently returned Amar'e Stoudemire. STAT and 'Melo may have experienced turbulence during their tenure together, but they were brought in to win a title.
More importantly, Stoudemire has 61 games of postseason experience and posted averages of 22.7 points and 8.8 rebounds in that time. Perhaps even more significantly, STAT has led a team to two conference finals appearances.
It's time to let him prove he can do it again.
By going through Stoudemire, the Knicks can run Anthony off-ball and set up screens to create open looks. Come the fourth quarter, the Knicks will let 'Melo run isolation, but he needs to have developed a rhythm.
It's on the point guards to help him do so.
Furthermore, the Knicks must improve as a team from beyond the arc, overcoming the fierce pressure from players such as George Hill and Lance Stephenson. Steve Novak and Jason Kidd are the two keys, especially if they see a rise in playing time.
One way or another, the Knicks must avoid commitment to 'Melo-ball and work him off screens to create open looks. If they don't, they'll face the same results we've seen all series.
Paul George containing Carmelo Anthony.