One playoff-life-threatening loss was lesson enough for Mike Woodson. The head coach of the New York Knicks didn't bother with upsizing gimmicks (Kenyon Martin in the starting lineup) and hobbled, ineffective veterans (Amar'e Stoudemire and Jason Kidd) in Game 5 against the Indiana Pacers.
Instead, his Knicks (perhaps) sought inspiration from Shania Twain, returning wholeheartedly to their roots as an unabashedly small-balling, perimeter-shooting squad.
And, for the most part, it worked. Woodson sat Stoudemire and Kidd for the entire second half, put Pablo Prigioni back in the starting five in place of K-Mart, carved out crucial minutes for Chris Copeland and watched his Knicks sneak away with an 85-75 win in Madison Square Garden.
Not that the result was all that encouraging or impressive by any means. The Pacers were a hot mess from start to finish. D.J. Augustin, who started in place of a concussed George Hill, finished with as many assists as I did—and with many more botched scoring opportunities (including a particularly deplorable fast break in the fourth quarter) than I could've come up with from the seat of my couch. Paul George and Roy Hibbert were in foul trouble all night. The Pacers, as a whole, shot a slovenly 36.2 percent from the field, missed 14 of their 33 free-throw attempts and turned the ball over 19 times.
And yet, they were right there until the very end, in large part because the Knicks allowed them to be. New York converted just 41 percent of its own shots, lost the rebounding battle (as expected), racked up a whopping 30 personal fouls,and tallied a mere 12 assists.
But a win's a win, and the Knicks will live to play another day because of it.
And because Woodson allowed his team to get back to its bread and butter. There was Carmelo Anthony (28 points on 28 shots) and J.R. Smith (13 points on 11 shots) volume shooting, Raymond Felton picking-and-rolling and Tyson Chandler and Kenyon Martin muscling and hustling.
There was also some semblance of spacing and flow to the offense at times...for once. Copeland nailed 3-of-4 from beyond the arc on the way to a 13-point evening off New York's bench. This, as opposed to the lane clogging of a weak-kneed Amar'e, who, as Marc Berman of the New York Post pointed out, makes quite a bit more than does his rookie counterpart, to say the least:
Marc Berman @NYPost_Berman
Stoudemire makes $19.9M this season - the league max. Copeland the league minimum - $473,000. What a world.2013-5-17 02:01:24
Rather than waiting desperately for Jason Kidd to score for the first time in three weeks, Woodson plugged Pablo Prigioni into the role of "Old Point Guard Who Either Shoots or Passes From the Perimeter." The result? Three assists, a made three, a steal and (GASP!) a positive plus-minus rating.
Woody's adjustments hardly turned the Knicks into an overnight NBA juggernaut, but they did restore some semblance of order and confidence to a team whose foundation had been shaken by three losses in four games to the bigger, tougher Pacers.
Now, it's up to the Knicks to take the lessons they learned from Games 4 (bigger and older isn't better) and 5 (smaller and younger is probably better) and apply them to Game 6 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Saturday. New York won't have the full vocal support of the MSG crowd and may well up against an Indy team with George Hill back in the lineup.
That won't matter, though, as long as the Knicks silence the Pacers' home crowd by doing what they do best: spreading the floor, shooting threes and taking care of the ball (they turned it over just 10 times in Game 5).
At last, Mike Woodson understands the need to dance with the ones who brought him, and that if the Knicks are going down, they might as well do so while playing to their own strengths rather than right into the hands of the Pacers.