Sure the game was inconsequential, but it still leaves a bad taste in your mouth. Any loss does. Especially one that was far more reminiscent of the Pacers of December and January than the recent playoff clinching team. It was a fourth quarter collapse, and it would’ve been nice to not see it rear its ugly head again.
But here we are.
It’s better to get this out of the way now rather than a week from now, as the old saying goes. Even still, this was a bit of an odd game anyway. Tyler Hansbrough picked up from where he left off in his recent domination of the Knicks, scoring 6 of his 9 first quarter points as both Indiana and New York jetted out to quick starts leaving defense far far in the back of both teams’ minds.
But Carmelo Anthony, in an effort to make up for the absence of his teammate Amar’e Stoudemire, made a concerted offensive stand, hitting two of his six three pointers (tying a career high set against Indiana earlier this season) in a first quarter that ended in a deadlock. Little changed in the second as both teams built their own runs. Indiana was up, and then New York was up. New York would take the upper hand into the locker rooms, thanks in large part to shooting 8-19 from three point range.
Darren Collison led the way in the third quarter to quickly erase the six-point deficit while holding New York to just 20 third quarter points, as Chauncey Billups and Anthony worked hard to keep their team alive, scoring 13 of the Knicks’ points. The quarter ended on an extremely high note as a Roy Hibbert basket resulted in a Mike Dunleavy steal that A.J. Price cashed in for three as the buzzer sounded, giving Indiana a comfortable nine-point lead heading into the final period.
Despite the lead, the Knicks kept fighting, cutting the lead to two on a pair of back-to-back Anthony three pointers (how much does he like shooting threes against Indiana anyway?). But the Pacers played tough, and immediately responded with four points that had it at a solid six-point lead with under four to go. The Pacers were presented with another great opportunity to learn to close out a nice win, but for as good as things looked, the whole package went sour in the blink of an eye.
After a Collison layup put Indiana up 109-103, the Pacers would go on to slop it up, committing a turnover in their next two possessions while missing their next three shots, contested jumpers with little movement. A Collison turnover with under a minute to go led to Landry Fields slamming home a fast break dunk that cut the lead to one. Yet another Pacers missed jumper gave the ball back to New York, with the shot clock turned off, leading to Carmelo Anthony pulling up a contested jumper for the lead.
If he did one thing for Indiana, it was leaving enough time on the clock to work an encore of the team’s recent game winner. The same play was drawn up as Danny Granger pulled up for the shot, but Anthony came up with a pivotal block that resulted in a few tips at the basket falling short for Indiana.
As mentioned, the loss doesn’t matter for the Pacers, but in a game where defense was clearly optional, it was the Knicks, who had been pesky defensively at their most praise worthy moments, that came up with the defensive plays to keep Indiana out of the win column. It’s hard to take too much from this game if only because there were points where the Pacers were merely going through the motions, but the real positive in Indiana’s recent play has been their offense, partially sparked by the return of Mike Dunleavy, that simply fell apart as old habits of isolation and settling for jumpers came back to light. The Pacers, who scored 96 points through the first three quarters, only mustered up 13 in the fourth, with none in the final three and a half minutes.
The bottom line is that the Pacers were flustered and overwhelmed by a Knicks defense that was by no means formidable, simply playmaking and opportunistic in the way the Indianapolis Colts have made famous in the past decade. Breaking flow for them doesn’t paint a pretty picture for what could lie in store against the league’s best defensive team in a week’s time.
Some can be made of the Pacers recent defensive play, but Indiana still held New York to 39% shooting. While the defensive effort certainly didn't living up to the 39% billing, it took New York 38 three point attempts to reach 110 points. It was the offense, giving New York 10 steals and 9 blocks that caused more woes for Indiana. They're fortunate that Chicago isn't quite the offensive team the Knicks are, and could still put up "this kind" of defensive effort as long as the offense continues to show up.
After the jump, can’t win if you don’t play all 48 minutes:
- Mike Dunleavy gets player of the game honors for a couple of sharp defensive plays, but in also going 6-11 from the field and creating a tremendous flow for the offense. When the Pacers fell off the horse, it was in a lineup not featuring Dunleavy. Would his movement have opened up a more free flowing offense in the final minutes? It’s difficult to say, but Dunleavy’s return has been nothing but a positive, and was so in the same way tonight.
- Roy Hibbert took advantage of a small Knicks frontline by not only going for 19 points and 10 rebounds, but finding himself at the line 11 times and dishing out 4 assists. The play of the big fella definitely looked like that of a true seven footer tonight, repeatedly putting the overmatched Knicks defenders in a difficult situation, including freezing Shelden Williams in his tracks on one nice spin move.
- Darren Collison shot well below his recent average tonight, but still put in 16 points thanks to some positive trips to the line. It was frustrating seeing Collison isolate poorly and commit a pair of turnovers in the final minutes because he had been playing at a very high level throughout the game, especially in the second half to that point. His play overall has been such that a three minute stretch shouldn’t throw him off his game, but it’s always hard to tell.
- Paul George was limited once again due to foul trouble, an issue that’s been curiously rising in recent games, but still made a positive impact in his time. His foul troubles led to a brief talking about the possible reduction of George’s minutes in favor of more veteran presence in the form of Dunleavy and Dahntay Jones. George has avoided playing like a rookie at a lot of points this season, so it really seems these foul troubles have almost shown up out of nowhere. While George could be a real wild card in his first postseason series, players like Dunleavy (despite the lack of postseason experience) and Jones have showcased better overall decision making of late. But in the two games since Washington, in addition to foul trouble, George has once again gone away from involving himself with the starters, getting his baskets off of setups tonight.
- Tyler Hansbrough didn’t quite have the world beating effort tonight he’s had in his recent outings against the Knicks, but did have 9 first quarter points en route to 14 and 4, but Josh McRoberts did more than pick up any "slack," scoring 8 and 5 with three assists. The front line definitely played solid ball tonight against an undersized and shorthanded Knicks frontline, which is what will need to be done following Wednesday’s game.
- Danny Granger didn’t quite have the night he had recently, but did connect on four three pointers en route to 20 points, but I think that despite a fairly suspect shooting night, his contributions were good for the team. The offense was flowing and Granger didn’t force any-…a whole lot. But the talking point with Granger should be made on his final shot, specifically on whether or not he was actually fouled. Despite some claims to the contrary, basketball often follows patterns of officiating that anyone who grows up around the sport knows is part of the game.
In case the case needs to be made for Granger having possibly been fouled by Anthony on his final shot, we need to only look back to Granger probably getting away with a foul in holding and hounding Anthony in an effort to prevent him getting the ball, and the subsequent game winner on the previous play. This was a case of calling it both ways…or not calling it both ways if you will. Be upset with the ending, but don’t lament on what-ifs. Anthony came up tonight, just as Granger came up a month ago. Either way, this is how the Knicks/Pacers should be; down to the wire every game. Besides it’s not fair if the Pacers win all of them, is it?
- T.J. Ford (!) also returned to the lineup tonight. Lance Stephenson has been relegated to the team’s fourth PG option following some more unnecessary problem causing actions. When A.J. Price picked up a quick second foul, it allowed Ford an opportunity to return to the court, all smiles and quickly gassed. Ford notched a trio of rebounds in his short time, but it was good to see him on the floor again. Regardless on your opinion of a player, it’s hard to not enjoy seeing some good things happen to a member of your own team, benched as a victim of circumstance more than anything, resulting in some great professionalism in its wake. It may be a short playoff stay, but Ford as an option on the bench could provide a much better spark than Stephenson.
The Pacers may have lost, but all is not lost. It’s better to see them bring certain issues to light, especially fixable things like stagnation, while the outcomes of the games don’t matter. You’d rather the team continue to only build positive things in a stretch like this, but it’s always better to blow an inconsequential regular season game to the New York Knicks in this fashion than Game 5 against the Chicago Bulls.
That said, the loss stings for a lot of reasons, most having to do with losing to the villainous Knicks in such a fashion, but the Pacers will have one more dress rehearsal, the final game of the 2010-11 regular season, on Wednesday against the Orlando Magic before moving on to what really matters. Here’s to hoping we see Indiana’s effort in the first 45 minutes, not the final three.