With much of the talk leading into the game being focused on the importance of recognizing the situation a team is in after the All-Star break, the Indiana Pacers played with the urgency needed as the regular season began its final stretch run. The New York Knicks? Well, not so much. Indiana didn't allow much room for the Knicks to make it a game, and the end result was the gaudiest blowout of the year for the Pacers.
After a 30-18 first quarter advantage, the Pacers turned it on, shooting 60% in first half, and whistles allowing them to live at the free throw line, scoring 74 points in the first half to balloon their lead up to 30 at the break. In the third quarter, they piled it on some more, extending their lead to 39, and despite a quick 15-0 Knicks run in the fourth, Indiana responded to push the game back to 34 at the final buzzer.
The game began to get incredibly testy towards the end of the second quarter. As a whole, it was a whistled filled, free throw event, with 54 fouls leading to 75 free throws, but technical fouls and flagrants began to show up at the half. J.R. Smith was the poster child for testiness in a mini-feud with Lance Stephenson, eventually getting ejected for his confrontations with Stephenson and his words with the officials. Stephenson had a sharp game of 14 points, surprisingly ended up with zero turnovers for as out of control as he was at times, but it was impressive to not only see the way Lance handled tonight's game, but really made things difficult for his opponents.
While it's not out of line to suggest a dose of maturity for Stephenson, his swagger tonight was one of the many things that caused the Knicks to lose all of their mental composure. Being mature is one thing, but if he can back up his trash talk with on the court success, it doesn't seem to be a detriment, as long as he doesn't make it a detriment by losing his cool when someone like Smith might do more than an intentional clearing elbow at Stephenson's jaw.
All in all, the frustration of the Knicks by the Pacers not only helped expand their lead, but limited the effectiveness of New York's biggest names. Amar'e Stoudemire was held in check after losing his cool against Tyler Hansbrough, and Carmelo Anthony was more than held in check thanks to the efforts of Paul George. Defensively, while the Pacers allowed 91 points, they held New York to just 33.7%, which was a degree warmer than the 32.6% they shot in the first half. New York had just one three point field goal in the first half, finishing 5-28 for the night.
Paul George was the star for the Pacers tonight, scoring 27 points and grabbing eight boards, but made highlight plays on both ends. A pair of second quarter buckets (part of his 20 first half points) were astounding to see; a layup in traffic and a thundering dunk surrounded by the Knick defenders. He made quick work of Iman Shumpert all night, continuing to play on the high he was in during the All-Star Game. George's defense on Anthony was highly encouraging. Anthony has typically had his way with the Pacers, but tonight was held to just 15 points on 7-21 shooting, spending the better part of the night with fouls mounting.
David West and George Hill pitched in with quiet, but effective nights. West had 18 & 9, Hill had 10 & 5. Neither were ever really focus points, but both came up with buckets that helped either push the lead, stop a Knicks run, or begin another Pacers stretch of success. The big men for Indiana had a little bit of a tougher time. Despite a solid run in his short minutes, Roy Hibbert was in foul trouble all night, spelled by Ian Mahinmi, who himself was quickly in foul trouble. A lot of credit has to go to Tyson Chandler, despite struggling defensively against Hibbert and Mahinmi, for remaining composed in the face of the whistles, the missed shots, and mental breakdowns an, finishing with a 19 & 11 double double.
Off the bench, the Pacers were effective, with D.J. Augustin with 9 & 4, Tyler Hansbrough with 10 in between frustrating Stoudemire, to go with eight from Orlando Johnson, nine from Jeff Pendergraph, and a surprising seven point, five rebound, four assist night for Sam Young, who finished his night with a pair of big time dunks, including a windmill. A windmill dunk? Who knew? The Pacers were exceptional with ball movement, assisting on 28 of their 42 field goals, outrebounding the Knicks 52-39, and scoring 26 fast break points to New York's 12.
While it only counts for one in the win column, this was a nice, exciting win to take on. The Pacers move within a half a game of the Knicks for second in the East, and are now 4-1 against the top two teams in the East. They'll take the floor Friday night when they take on the Detroit Pistons at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. If you can make it to the Fieldhouse, you absolutely should. No way you wouldn't have wanted to see this kind of showcase full of SportsCenter Top 10 highlights, and there's no reason to expect anything less on Friday.