The New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers have traded haymakers for the first three games of their second-round series, with Indiana taking a 2-1 series lead into Tuesday's Game 4.
An ugly, physical contest was exactly what the Pacers needed in Game 3, as they bottled up Carmelo Anthony and company for an 82-71 victory. They put New York in a tight spot, as the Knicks will be under immense pressure to win Game 4 in Indy.
Paul George played lockdown defense in addition to his 14 points and eight assists, and Roy Hibbert absolutely owned the paint Saturday.
New York needs to figure out how to get high-percentage looks in a bruising road scenario. Anthony was the only player in double figures in Game 3, and it was far from a banner night for him: 6-of-16 shooting and one assist.
Meanwhile, the Pacers want to transfer that defensive output to the rest of the series and continue to keep Hibbert rolling on the other end.
Will Amar'e Stoudemire's improving health make a difference? Can Indiana put New York in a vice grip with a 3-1 lead? Find out as we break down Game 4
Date/Time: Tuesday, May 14, 7 p.m. ET
Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Ind.
Series Record: 2-1 Pacers
Key Storyline: Can New York Punch Back on the Road?
Each of the first three games of this series was a decisive victory for the winning club.
Indiana started the series by dropping 102 points on the Knicks in Madison Square Garden, with the Knicks responding with a landslide Game 2 win. Indiana then defended its home court by clamping down on the defensive end in Game 3.
Now, the question is whether New York can win on the road. Does it have the mental and physical fortitude to fight back against the bigger, stronger Pacers?
Not if Tyson Chandler gets manhandled by Hibbert again. Not if the Knicks' trio of point guards combines for six points and seven assists. And not if 'Melo struggles against Paul George again.
Hibbert grabbed a lot of headlines for his production in Game 3, and the attention was well-earned. But George's defense on Anthony was critical in holding the Knicks star to 21 points and one assist.
Stoudemire supplied nine decent minutes in his return from knee injury, as he was aggressive offensively, albeit a bit rusty. He could provide New York a gigantic boost in Game 4 and actually give them the juice to punch back in this series. A chunk of 10-20 high-energy minutes from Stoudemire would help chip into the Pacers' rebounding superiority and give Mike Woodson another scoring option.
The Knicks can't expect to outboard the Pacers in this series. However, they do need to do better than the 53-40 drubbing they endured in Game 3.
Series Star so Far: Paul George
Hibbert may have been the star Saturday night, but George has been the MVP of the series.
His versatility is invaluable to Frank Vogel's club, as there's not an area of the game he doesn't impact.
On a night when his shooting was ugly, he still managed to put his stamp on both ends of the floor. He attacked the basket and dished out eight assists, snatched eight rebounds and punctuated his stifling defense with five steals.
Carmelo certainly isn't looking the part of a champion against him:
George's work against Anthony sets the tone for the Pacers' team defense. When he can effectively keep 'Melo out of his rhythm, it's tough for New York's offense to excel. Saturday's 71-point effort is Exhibit A.
Projected Starting Lineups
Knicks: Pablo Prigioni, PG; Raymond Felton, SG; Iman Shumpert, SF; Carmelo Anthony, PF; Tyson Chandler, C
Pacers: George Hill, PG; Lance Stephenson, SG; Paul George, SF; David West, PF; Roy Hibbert, C
Knicks Injury Report (via CBSSports.com)
No injuries reported
Pacers Injury Report
Danny Granger (knee), out for season
Knicks Will Win If...
...they limit the rebounding damage and get J.R. Smith going.
New York is at its best when it defends well, rebounds well and buries assisted triples. Even though the Knickerbockers looked atrocious Saturday, it's still possible for them to achieve those goals in Game 4.
Tyson Chandler, Kenyon Martin and Amar'e Stoudmire must combine for 25 or more boards, with 'Melo chipping in six to eight rebounds. It's a top priority because the Pacers will relentlessly crash the offensive glass in hopes of scoring second-chance points and drawing fouls.
As for the scoring dilemma, Carmelo needs help. Raymond Felton, Pablo Prigioni and Jason Kidd seemingly have lost all confidence in their perimeter game, and that must be corrected in a hurry. If they can't knock down shots, they at least need to trigger better ball movement.
One man who never lacks for confidence is Smith, who must work hard to get open away from the ball and then be decisive once he gets it. When Smith scores 15-25 points to supplement 'Melo's 25-30, New York's offense will be that much tougher for Indiana to match.
Pacers Will Win If...
...they defend and keep the Knicks off the three-point line.
Indiana will make some adjustments and changes heading into Game 4, but it can't lose sight of what brought it a decisive win in Game 3: defense.
New York shot 3-of-11 from three-point land, and that wasn't by accident. It was a coordinated effort by the Pacers to prevent New York from settling into comfortable long-range shooting opportunities. If the Knicks had their way, they'd make 11 threes instead of taking 11 threes, as a 12-of-20 night suits them much better.
Obviously, Indiana can't let that happen.
The defense of guards George Hill and Lance Stephenson is critical in this effort. If they patrol the perimeter as well as they did Saturday, the Pacers will be sitting pretty.
Another slow-paced, grind-it-out defensive game favors the Blue and Gold.
New York will move and shoot the ball better and get higher offensive production from both Anthony and Smith.
That doesn't mean it'll win.
Indiana has some shooting woes to iron out—namely Paul George and George Hill's combined 9-of-33 in Game 3. Expect these two each to have a better shooting night, which will mean an uptick in scoring for the Pacers.
In the trenches, Indiana will take care of business, barring a breakout masterpiece by Stoudemire. George will continue to wear down 'Melo, and the Pacers will simultaneously harass Knick shooters.
Expect a bit more scoring from both sides than we saw in Game 3. But don't expect a different outcome.
Prediction: Pacers 90, Knicks 87