The New York Knicks hosted Game 5 at Madison Square Garden staring elimination in the face. With the Indiana Pacers taking care of business in Game 4, they held a commanding 3-1 series lead as the Knicks hoped to reverse their fortunes.
New York turned in a solid effort with a wire-to-wire 85-75 victory. The Pacers wouldn't go quietly, but the Knicks defense remained stout, holding Indiana to 36.2 percent shooting. Now they just need to play like that in the next two games.
Carmelo Anthony led all scorers with 28 points on 12-of-28 shooting, and Paul George dropped a team-high 23 points for Indy.
Pacers point guard George Hill sat out due to a concussion sustained in Game 4, and he still scored a game-high 26 points in that win for the Pacers. On Thursday, D.J. Augustin started in his place, but it's hard to replace Hill's postseason averages of 16 points, 4.1 rebounds and 4.4 assists. Augustin finished with 12 points on 3-of-9 from the field.
Both teams trudged through an ugly first quarter, with the Knicks shooting 30 percent and the Pacers shooting just 27 percent. Indy even struggled from the line, going 2-of-6.
J.R. Smith—who has been ice-cold over his past six games, shooting 26-of-91 (28.6 percent)—turned in a strong first half, going 3-of-5 from the field for nine points with four rebounds, a steal and block. And that block came on a beautifully athletic play to stuff a layup attempt by Augustin.
After two cagey quarters, the Knicks held a 40-34 lead, and Carmelo Anthony led all scorers with 15 points. David West tallied 11 points and six boards by the half to lead the achy Pacers. On the downside, Pacers starters Paul George, Roy Hibbert and Lance Stephenson combined to shoot 3-of-16 in the half.
Tyson Chandler and Hibbert each picked up their fourth fouls in the third quarter, leading to a run of small ball on both sides. Chris Copeland and Pablo Prigioni proved effective as the Knicks stretched their lead to double digits. Copeland finished with 13 points, four boards and two steals.
But Paul George also began to percolate in the second half, as the pace trended more toward a track meet than the grappling of the first half. Two quick fouls made it five on George with nine minutes left in the contest. While he did not foul out, he did play some matador defense down the stretch.
Poor free-throw shooting killed the Pacers all game long, even though they got to the line with much more regularity than New York. Indy missed 14 free throws and shot just 57.6 percent from the charity stripe; the Knicks missed only three foul shots (14-of-17). And the Pacers also shot themselves in the foot by coughing up 18 turnovers, including several down the stretch.
Raymond Felton struggled from the field early but still scored a dozen points. He also racked up four offensive boards and three steals as he turned in a fine second half, powering the Knicks down the stretch. Amar'e Stoudemire was a non-factor for the Knicks, and Iman Shumpert continued to struggle from the field.
But Carmelo Anthony, wincing with virtually every exertion, led New York throughout.
The Knicks played with determination and pugnacity. They forced numerous jump balls on defense and harassed the Pacers all night. And it was precisely that defense that kept them leading for the entire game.
Now the question becomes whether they can transfer that intensity to the hostile environment at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Marc Berman of the New York Post lamented the continued offensive failures of Jason Kidd in these playoffs. Kidd's contested layup rolled around half of the rim before falling off the back iron.
Kidd has not scored since hitting a three-pointer in the first quarter of Game 2 against the Boston Celtics.
Knicks blogger Jonah Kaner noted the apparent leg injury suffered by Pacers forward David West in the first quarter, and Knicks fans apparently welcomed the news, judging by their replies.
ESPN's Bomani Jones was one of many to note Tyson Chandler's hard foul on Lance Stephenson, who tried to climb the ladder on last year's Defensive Player of the Year before failing spectacularly.
ESPN Radio host Dave Rothenberg observed the dual boneheaded plays that took place in the final three seconds of the first half. Tyson Chandler picked up his third foul going for a steal; not to be outdone, Sam Young fouled J.R. Smith on a three-point attempt with less than a second remaining.
Numbers Never Lie drew derided the Knicks' anemic backcourt scoring, as the starting guards shot just 1-of-5 from the field in the first half.
But that silly foul on Chandler at the end of the second quarter came back to haunt him, as he picked up a fourth foul early in the third quarter on a confusing sequence (via Chris Herring, Wall Street Journal).
The parody account that personifies Mike Woodson's fantastic facial hair noted the promising occurrence of Hibbert picking up his fourth foul shortly after Chandler got his.
Chris Copeland got some minutes from Coach Woodson and some love from the Knicks' official Twitter account for his effective play in the second half.
One commenter noted the acrobatic avoidance of fouling out by Paul George.
Saturday Night Fever
Whoever takes the series faces a daunting date with the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. Miami is coming off of a hard-fought series against the Chicago Bulls, and the health of Dwyane Wade remains of some concern.
But they, of course, still have LeBron James, who can beat any defense in a myriad ways. But in the postseason, you just have to take things one game at a time.
Game 6 will be on Saturday night back in Indianapolis, where the Pacers enjoy a tremendous home-court advantage.
The Knicks will continue to try to climb out of the hole they dug, but a three-game winning streak is not out of the question if they play defense like they did in Game 5.