The Indiana Pacers had their hands full early against the New York Knicks, with Carmelo Anthony scorching his way to 18 first quarter points and a prominent offensive period. The Knicks jumped ahead 16-8, but Indiana was able to find an offensive rhythm late in the quarter, scoring on their final six possessions to jump up 30-28 before Anthony's three pointer to beat the buzzer put New York up 31-30.
Even despite Anthony's dominate quarter, he received little in the way of supporting help, which allowed Indiana to not only climb back in the game, but force their way into the lead when Anthony scored just two points in the second quarter. The Pacers responded positively to allowing 31 first quarter points, ratcheting up their defense and turning their positive defensive effort into positive offensive outlets. Thanks to big offensive play from Lance Stephenson and Paul George, the Pacers outscored New York 33-17 in the second quarter, scoring a season high 63 points in the first half.
George lifted the Pacers out of the half with five quick points that pushed the lead to 20 and from there, the route was on. Indiana played high level basketball on both ends of the floor to wrap up a dominating 117-89 victory, topping their season high of 116 from the previous game against Sacramento. The Pacers were keyed in and focused despite the early Anthony explosion, responding to Larry Bird's concern of turnovers with just five on the night, which led to only three New York points, a battle Indiana won 20-3.
The Pacers also controlled the paint. New York made a living in the first quarter with outside shots, and it caught up to them when they were unable to make anything happen inside. They scored 22 points all night in the paint, just eight in the first half. Indiana on the other hand scored 40. Indiana shot 50% on the night, hit 10 three pointers, and were a reliable 21-23 from the line. They held New York at 40%, including 4-19 from deep.
Stephenson led the way for the Pacers with a career best 28 points on 10-17 shooting. His play in the second and third quarter was nothing short of exciting, controlling the offense and hitting some big shots along the way. Stephenson has shown a knack to come up big against his hometown teams. While he averages 13.7 points the year, but his average jumps all the way to 20.2 against the two New York squads.
But despite the positive play, Stephenson still gave away a handful of plays. It's difficult to bag much on Stephenson, especially when he's making such a strong case for the All-Star Game, but there were multiple possessions where he found himself with the ball towards the end of the shot clock only to set himself up with a poor shot on purpose.
The TNT crew joked early in the game that Stephenson was a "good for me, good for you" type of player, suggesting he's capable of giving back as much as he gives to his own team. While this is grossly misplaced given his overall impact on Indiana's success, he's absolutely prone to those kinds of stretches. But it's difficult to suggest this is something to watch for since the team will likely take him out of situations where this will actually affect the outcome of a game, given the lopsided score when he took the poor shots tonight.
It is something that the team would hope he can avoid all together, but when he's giving you what he's giving you in terms of playmaking and shot making abilities, it's not entirely fair to rest on the minute negatives. A similar, easier target in this case is George Hill, who had just three points on 1-2 shooting. Early foul trouble sent him out in the first quarter, but Hill was smart, as he usually is, in his role to the team. Hill had five assists and three rebounds, as well as a big inbound pass steal to set up a Paul George three.
Hill's certainly an easy target as the team's "weakest" link, but it's easy to miss Hill's awareness in terms of improved defense and assessing the situation regarding his own personal numbers if you aren't watching the team's success. In 22 minutes, only Stephenson and Roy Hibbert had a higher team + / - if those kinds of things mean much to you.
Hibbert's defensive presence on the other hand was anything but quiet. He had all 11 of his points in the first half, but was a defensive nightmare for the Knicks, especially in the second quarter, sending away a familiar block on an Anthony dunk and making hustle plays to set up the Pacers in a favorable position. He and Paul George tag-teamed on defense throughout the night.
George had 25 points, 10 in the third quarter to help push the game from an already seemingly out of reach 15 to a definitely out of reach 22 with his corner three off of Hill's inbound steal. George was 8-17 from the floor, but looked more fluid offensively than he had in quite some time, hitting familiar shots with relative reliability, at least when looking at his recent slump. He also led the team in rebounds with seven.
David West and Luis Scola continue to be a lethal power forward punch, with West scoring 12 and Scola 10. Both offered up excellent play on their jumpers throughout the game. Danny Granger led the bench scoring with 11 points, passing extremely well for four assists. The bench as a whole continues to play extremely well. C.J. Watson remains solid for some nice shots and Ian Mahinmi offered quality defense and a pair of blocks in his 21 minutes.
It was all around the kind of effort the Pacers were glad to showcase on national television, as they move to 31-7, opening up a four game lead over the Miami Heat for first place in the Eastern Conference. The win, their third straight, keeps them on pace for the best start in team history with the 1969-70 ABA Championship team, who also sat at 31-7.
The 2013-14 Pacers will be back in action on Saturday as they open up seven straight games against Western Conference opponents, beginning at home against the Los Angeles Clippers. The Pacers will go for the season sweep against Los Angeles, in their final home game until January 30th.