The second round of the NBA playoffs will reach a pair of turning points on Tuesday night.
Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks will hope to climb themselves out of whatever offensive hole they've dug themselves into and tie their series against the Indiana Pacers at two games apiece. The way Indiana has been defending, though, the possibility of going down 3-1 is very much alive.
Meanwhile, both the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs are hoping to take control of their series. The winner of Tuesday night's bout will be within one victory of advancing to the Western Conference Finals, so there's plenty on the line in this Game 5.
Will the Knicks be able to rebound from a Game 3 disaster, or will the Pacers be able to seize Game 4? And will the Spurs be able to hold their home court, or will the Warriors push them to the brink of elimination?
Let's find out.
New York Knicks at Indiana Pacers
New York's offense was embarrassed by Indiana in Game 3, but while Carmelo and friends will look to reclaim their scoring promise in Game 4, the Pacers aren't likely to make it easy for them.
The 71 points the Knicks dropped in Game 3 was their second-lowest point total of the year (regular season) included. Indiana held them to just 35.2 percent shooting, and 'Melo was the only Knick in double figures.
Also troubling was the Knicks' lack of ball movement. They were dead last in assists during the regular season (19.3) and are dishing out just 15.1 a night for the playoffs (also last), but in Game 3, they dropped just 11 dimes.
Afterward, Tyson Chandler criticized the offense to no end, citing the lack of ball movement just discussed and poor execution overall. And while he's not known for his offensive savvy, Chandler has a point.
For the Knicks to emerge victorious in Game 4, they're going to have to find ways to score. More specifically, they need to find a way to shoot the three-ball.
New York attempted just under 29 deep balls per game during the regular season. Against the Pacers in Round 2, they're averaging just 20. The 11 treys the Knicks attempted in Game 3 was the fewest number of treys they have attempted all year (regular season included).
For most teams, living and dying by the three isn't a recipe for success. The Knicks, however, are an exception. They were just 12-9 on the regular season when they hoisted up 25 or fewer three-pointers and 2-2 when taking 20 or less.
By comparison, the Knicks were 44-21 when jacking up more than 25 from long distance. So we're not even talking about necessarily making threes (thought that would be nice). They just need to shoot them to keep the Pacers' defense honest.
Some rebounding wouldn't hurt either.
The Knicks are smaller than the Pacers, we get it. But they allowed Indiana to grab 18 offensive boards—and were a minus-12 on the glass overall—in Game 3. Roy Hibbert had eight of those offensive rebounds and had his way in the paint on both ends of the floor. If the Knicks can't stop him, they're not going to win.
For the Pacers, they just need to keep doing what they're doing, as tragic as it sounds. Their offense has been in anemic these past two games, but they're up 2-1 in the series. An ugly grudge match favors them.
Iman Shumpert's potential absence helps them as well. He's done a great job on Paul George and if he can't go, that frees up the NBA's Most Improved Player.
Indiana has done a great job controlling the pace of play, forcing the Knicks into more half-court sets than even they're used to running. And while the Knicks are to blame for not attempting enough three-pointers, the Pacers haven't had any shortage of bodies cutting off open looks at the perimeter.
Something to watch for, however, is how often the Pacers go to Hibbert. They found success giving him the ball in Game 3 and even some in Game 1. In Game 2, however, he managed to get off just seven shots.
The more Hibbert is involved, the more trouble the Pacers put the Knicks in. Feeding him like they did in Game 3 (18 shots) will go a long way in their case to jump out to a 3-1 series lead.
But will they?
Indiana's offense concerns me. It has topped 90 points just once this series.
Staring down the barrel of a potential 3-1 deficit, the Knicks will come out firing and look to push the tempo. They may be exploited by Hibbert in the post, but a quickened pace favors them.
And a quickened pace is just what we'll see.
Prediction: Knicks 98, Pacers 89
Golden State Warriors at San Antonio Spurs
This series is incredible.
The Warriors giving San Antonio everything it can handle, and then some (see Game 2). They weren't even favorites to make it out of the first round, yet here they sit, notched up with a powerhouse like the Spurs at two games apiece. And they're not done.
The Warriors have already stolen one game in San Antonio, and though the Spurs are a dominant home team, their inability to put Golden State away is concerning.
In Game 4, the Spurs held the Warriors to just 38 percent shooting overall, but Golden State was able to steal the win by holding San Antonio to a miserable 35.5 percent clip. Golden State's defense played San Antonio well, but off-shooting nights from Tony Parker (6-of-17), Manu Ginobili (8-of-18) and Tim Duncan (7-22), among others, have become all-too familiar in this series.
To be honest, the Spurs have bordered on fine defensively. They've done a nice job limiting Golden State's fast-break opportunities and held the Warriors to under 40 percent shooting the last two games.
But "fine" isn't enough. Stephen Curry is still hitting on 41 percent of his threes—playing on a bum ankle—and the Warriors are still hitting on 38.9 percent of their triples as a team. To be fair, Golden State connected on 40.3 percent of its threes during the regular season, so 38.9 is a visible decrease. Like I said, though, it's not enough.
Their offense isn't enough either. The Spurs have put points on the board in stretches (Game 1, anyone?), but they've hit on more than 44 percent of their field-goal attempts just once this series. Golden State hasn't allowed many easy looks for Duncan or Parker (or even Ginobili), so San Antonio's supporting cast will need to step up in Game 5.
If we're the Warriors, we just want to play 48 minutes of complete basketball. Golden State came out blazing for most of Games 1 and 2 before its defense collapsed. And in Games 3 and 4, the Warriors came out flat on both ends of the floor, putting themselves in early holes, only one of which they came out of.
What's encouraging (yet also slightly unnerving) is how the Warriors have won. They snagged a Game 2 victory after nearly suffering another defensive meltdown and they managed to steal Game 4 as well, when the Spurs really outplayed them for the first three quarters.
For the Spurs, that can't feel good. They've been mediocre for most of this series and haven't put together a performance that has us convinced they'll move on (I actually forecasted they wouldn't).
At home, after failing to gain control of this series back in Oakland, however, I expect a more complete showcase from Gregg Popovich's crew. But I don't expect it to be enough.
There's just something about these Warriors (their streaky three-point shooting?) that has me prepared to believe they're the ones that will take control of this series—with a second victory in San Antonio, no less.
Prediction: Warriors 101, Spurs 96
*All stats in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference and NBA.com unless otherwise noted.