In a do-or-die game in Madison Square Garden, the New York Knicks will fight for survival as the Indiana Pacers seek to send them packing in Game 5.
New York is more than happy to return home for this pivotal game, as the past two games in Bankers Life Fieldhouse didn't treat the Knicks too kindly.
In Games 1 and 2, the Pacers surrendered a total of 200 points to Carmelo Anthony and Co. In Games 3 and 4, they held them to 153.
Paul George, Roy Hibbert and George Hill dictated the complexion of the last couple contests. Frank Vogel's club has dominated the glass and systematically slowed down New York's vaunted perimeter attack. George has stymied 'Melo, and Lance Stephenson has hampered J.R. Smith.
Will the tide turn in the Garden Thursday?
Date/Time: Thursday, May 16, 8 p.m. ET
Where: Madison Square Garden, New York, N.Y.
Series Record: 3-1 Pacers
Key Storyline: Can 'Melo and Smith Dig Themselves Out?
Over the past two games, Indiana's defense has been machine-like in its effort to disrupt New York's attack. It has reduced the Knicks to an isolation-based club, and Anthony and Smith's one-on-one forays have been woefully unsuccessful.
When New York gets stuck in a stagnant half-court possession, it's easy for Indiana to defend both individually and collectively. George can work wonders in open space against 'Melo, and he also has help if he needs it.
Smith has been even worse than Anthony. Take a glance at his Game 4 effort below.
Entering these playoffs, the Knicks were clicking, 'Melo was seen as a potential postseason MVP and Smith was reveling in his Sixth Man of the Year honors.
Fast-forward three weeks, and they're in the doghouse.
Granted, they haven't had much help. But they can't afford to combine for a 16-of-45 outing like they did in Game 4.
Stronger pick-and-roll execution from Raymond Felton and Tyson Chandler could ease the burden, but ultimately, New York will live or die with Anthony and Smith.
Series Star So Far: Paul George
There hasn't been one totally dominant player in this series, but the man who has impacted it the most is Paul George.
Despite several ugly shooting performances and a handful of giveaways, he's fulfilling all the tasks that help teams win championships: defend, force turnovers, attack in transition, rebound and facilitate.
George posted 14 points, eight boards, eight assists and five steals in Game 3, and he followed that up with an 18-point, 14-rebound, seven-assist night in Game 4.
The rebounds and assists are great, but his finest attribute is his ability to square 'Melo without needing much help at all.
Projected Starting Lineups
Knicks: Raymond Felton, PG; Iman Shumpert, SG; Carmelo Anthony, SF; Kenyon Martin, PF; Tyson Chandler, C
Pacers: George Hill, PG; Lance Stephenson, SG; Paul George, SF; David West, PF; Roy Hibbert, C
Knicks Will Win If...
...an early shooting spurt forces Indiana to scramble.
If New York can work some early action away from Anthony, and then get him the ball in rhythm to shoot (easier said than done), he can ignite the Knicks offense.
If he and Felton can take and make high-percentage attempts, and then follow those up with drives to the tin, Indiana's defense won't be as comfortable as it's been recently.
Thus far, Vogel's bunch has been able to keep tabs on shooters individually without scrambling to help teammates. An early barrage by New York could open up some holes that the Pacers wouldn't be able to easily patch up.
Better shooting from guys like Smith and Shumpert would open up driving lanes and lob opportunities for Felton to Chandler or Felton to Martin.
Of course, the Knicks will also need a strong outing from Amar'e Stoudemire and a monumental rebounding effort from all the bigs. But it starts with easy jumpers and an early flow.
Pacers Will Win If...
...they rebound and keep the Knicks off the three-point line.
New York's regular-season power was based on its 28.9 three-point attempts per game (of which they made 10.9).
Indiana has dialed down the Knicks' voltage by holding them to 22 attempts and seven makes per night.
A continuation of this three-point power outage, along with another strong rebounding outing, will serve the Pacers well in the Garden.
It's not going to be easy to finish this series off on the road, especially when the Knicks are due for a better shooting performance. However, if George, Stephenson and Hill remain sound on the perimeter while Hibbert protects the rim, they won't let things get out of hand like they did in the Game 2 loss.
It sounds cheesy, but if the Pacers stay true to their identity and true to the fundamentals of the game, they'll clinch the series.
New York will be more comfortable in the Garden, and that means more confident drives and shots from everyone. It doesn't, however, automatically translate into victory.
Indiana's penchant for controlling the glass on both ends of the floor gives it more possessions and more high-percentage looks. Unless the Knicks can put up a better fight in that category, the Pacers will hold the upper hand.
A wild, colossal three-point shooting binge from the Knicks could change the narrative. Unfortunately, they haven't been able to gain any kind of rhythm due to the Pacers' elite stoppage corps.
New York was fun to watch throughout the winter, but this Indiana squad is built for a deeper run. On to the conference finals for the Blue and Gold.
Pacers 97, Knicks 90
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