Biggest Adjustments New York Knicks Must Make to Survive in Round 2
The New York Knicks are in serious trouble for the first time this postseason, down 2-1 to the Indiana Pacers and looking at what could be considered a must-win game. Only eight teams have come back to win a playoff series after being down 3-1.
Major adjustments are needed on both sides of the ball, including a greater sense of urgency and perhaps even some off-court responsibility, to get that big W in Game 4.
In Round 1 against the Boston Celtics, the Knicks looked like a completely different team. Other than the Game 4 loss minus J.R. Smith in person (elbow suspension) and the Game 5 loss minus Smith statistically (3-of-14)—both of which were close games—New York took the series convincingly.
Round 2 has had a whole other feel. The Knicks were on their heels after the first quarter in the Game 1 loss, and the Pacers dominated Game 3 just about wire to wire.
If it weren’t for New York’s out-of-character 30-2 run in Game 2, this series might be 3-0.
What must the Knicks do immediately to turn things around and survive Round 2?
Stay Small and Pick Up the Pace
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The Indiana Pacers are big and bruising. There’s 7’2” Roy Hibbert at center and 240-pound David West and 250-pound Tyler Hansbrough at the No. 4. They’re pounding the Knicks and owning the paint.
Tyson Chandler has sure picked the worst time to be playing some awful basketball (totaling 21 points and, egad, just 12 rebounds in three games). That crick in his neck has to be hurting.
Amar’e Stoudemire is back with restricted minutes. That’s nice, but the Knicks’ best bet is to stay small and run as much as possible. There is no big-man solution for the Knicks against the Pacers.
New York wants neither Chandler nor Stoudemire banging it around on the inside too often, challenging Hibbert and the gang. The Knicks have to protect Carmelo Anthony’s obviously ailing shoulder too.
Dare it be said, Mike Woodson has to take a page from Mike D’Antoni’s playbook here. Against Indiana, a half-court offense is self-defeating.
The Pacers do not score 100 points regularly. They averaged under 95 PPG during the regular season and so far only 91.4 PPG in the playoffs.
Quicker transitional scoring will minimize the impact of the Pacers’ big play inside, wear down their big men over the course of the game, force them to keep up offensively (not their strength) and offer fewer opportunities for Indiana to own the offensive glass.
Let Pablo Prigioni Shoot
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A quick transitional game depends on a smooth passing and accurate shooting backcourt.
The Knicks backcourt is shot, except for Pablo Prigioni.
Have you seen Jason Kidd taking shots lately? It’s like he’s heaving an anvil. Raymond Felton, the Knicks’ primary point man, has eight assists in three games. He was 1-of-8 in Game 3. J.R. Smith is a hot (literally, 102 degree) mess, pitiful since his suspension.
Outside the Knicks’ big men (and Chris Copeland), Prigioni is the most accurate shooter on the team. He should be looked at more often by Felton as an option. That should get the Knicks more scoring from the backcourt and more assists for Felton (and maybe even better shot selection).
Indiana is not looking for Prigioni to shoot often, so he has some space to work with. This will also keep the ball away from Indiana’s big men.
Neutralize Roy Hibbert's Defense
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If the Knicks take Roy Hibbert out of the game, they will win the series.
A fast-paced transition game is one piece of the puzzle. More perimeter shooting will also limit Hibbert’s reach—with the hope that Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith will once again find their shots and maybe even catch fire.
And if there’s anything New York would like from Amar’e Stoudemire, it’s the return of his 15-footer.
New York has forgotten what helped it win Game 6 against the Celtics: more ball movement, especially from side to side.
The Knicks have to keep Hibbert off balance, as he often sets up before the play develops. Kick out from the pick-and-roll, even if it’s just for another pass.
How about a backdoor cut by Prigioni or Iman Shumpert behind Hibbert while he is preoccupied with setting up for Felton’s inevitable charge?
Much More Aggression on the Boards
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Perhaps the most damaging and telling statistic to come out of Game 3 was the vast rebound differential. The Pacers had 13 more total boards (53-40) and eight more on the offensive end (18-10).
More than anywhere else, here is where New York lost the game.
The Pacers are going to out-rebound the Knicks. That’s OK, but the divide can’t be this great.
Before hitting the panic button, New York needs to recognize it can keep up on the boards enough to eliminate the disparity from being a game-ender. Poor, unexpected and rushed shots don’t help, giving teammates no time to set up for offensive rebounds or box out Hibbert effectively.
Yes, Indiana is bigger, but the main reason New York got completely whipped on the glass was due to a lack of aggression. It’s going to be tough for the Knicks to win the inside glass, but right now the Pacers backcourt is controlling the game.
A combination of stronger and more alert physical play by Chandler down low with a little heads-up play from Felton and the rest of the backcourt will help minimize the rebound battle as a factor.
It would be nice to see Marcus Camby one of these days.
More Three-Pointers...Chris Copeland?
The Knicks shot just 11 three-pointers in Game 3, making only three of them—by far their lowest totals on both accounts this postseason on one of their most tentative nights from downtown all year.
The Indiana Pacers shot three times as many three-pointers and made 10. Talk about beating a team at its own game.
As a comparison, the Knicks were 10-of-30 in their Game 2 win.
The Pacers have the perimeter on lockdown. They are staying home with their man and forcing the Knicks to beat them inside and off the pick-and-roll, where Roy Hibbert awaits.
Steve Novak’s back spasms haven't helped. He’s played a total of seven minutes in the three contests.
Mike Woodson has to find more time for Chris Copeland. Copeland is the Knicks’ second-best three-point shooter (yes), but he only played one minute in Game 3 (and sunk a trey).
Whoever tosses them up—Copeland, Anthony, Prigioni, Smith, even Iman Shumpert (40 percent)—the Knicks need more threes. It may not be the most “proper” basketball, but it’s how New York has won much of the year. Can’t abandon it now.