While every Indiana Pacers win is nice, one over the New York Knicks is like checking that column twice, making a 1-0 start to the 2020-21 regular season that much more festive and full of cheer. Though there are clearly areas in which the Pacers can improve, there was little across the full 48 minutes that was flat out alarming.
The first half defense and three point shooting, two of the most egregious downsides, were either cleaned up in the former’s case or can hopefully be more of an anomaly for the latter. The Pacers both allowed 66 first half points and shot under 25% all night from deep, but still managed to piece together a dominant second half to finally put their stamp on a game they had a tough time getting a grasp on.
The Pacers appeared to be on the way to taking control of the game much earlier, jumping ahead 19-11 halfway through the first thanks to a big offensive opening from Domantas Sabonis, who had 11 points, including Indiana’s first two three pointers of the season. It was that point when Nate Bjorkgren made his first substitution, swapping Myles Turner for Justin Holiday, opening up the door for the Knicks to close the gap on a 9-2 run.
A tough call to close the quarter allowed Immanuel Quickley to cut a five-point Pacers lead to two heading into the second where both teams would go back and forth, scoring with ease. The Knicks would light up the Pacers from three point range, shooting over 50% in the first half while Indiana stumbled, bricking each attempt after Sabonis’s two makes.
New York’s ability to hit shots, thanks in large part to a perfect shooting half from RJ Barrett, pushed the Knicks to a six point lead in the closing minutes of the second. Aaron Holiday made a three, while Sabonis and Malcolm Brogdon got crafty on three point plays to keep the lead from getting any larger, but the Knicks would still hold a five point advantage at the break, leading 66-61.
Out of the half, Victor Oladipo took control, scoring the first 11 of the half, helping the Pacers keep pace against the Knicks’ continued offense. Oladipo would push the Pacers back into the lead by finding T.J. Warren for all five of his points, going ahead 83-77 with under four minutes to go in the third.
That lead would not hold, however, when the Knicks scored five straight to make a one-point game. Turner closed the third on a tear defensively, blocking two shots and holding New York scorless. The Pacers finished on a modest 5-0 run of their own to head into the fourth up six.
An all-bench lineup featuring Turner opened the fourth, slowly ticking the lead up. Sabonis returned, pushing Indiana’s lead into double figures. An all-starting lineup featuring Doug McDermott in place of Turner got the lead as high as 17, setting up the Pacers for a 121-107 opening night victory.
For as bad as Indiana was defensively in the first half, they were that impressive in the second. The Knicks got to 66 first half points with two 33-point quarters. In the second half, they didn’t get to 33 points until the 3:39 mark of the fourth quarter, as Indiana outscored New York 60-41.
Turner was masterful on the defensive end, finishing with a career high-tying eight blocks, nearing a triple double with 10 points and eight rebounds. Part of that defensive turnaround was also aided by water finding level in regards to the Knicks shooting in general. In the first half, New York shot upwards of 56% overall while pouring in threes at a high volume. That came down considerably in the second half, giving the Pacers a chance to find some difference on the scoreboard.
The Pacers also appeared to do a better job containing Barrett out of the half. Barrett was a perfect 8-8 shooting in the first half, but just 3-7 afterwards. Much of the offense was initiated through Julius Randle, who despite a game high nine assists, wasn’t nearly the offensive threat that Barrett in particular was.
On the other side, Sabonis was the go-to offensively for the Pacers, finishing with 32 points and 13 rebounds. Sabonis was one of three Pacers to hit a pair of threes, going 2-4 and 11-18 overall. He also managed to work his way to the line at will in the first half, putting three separate Knicks into foul trouble as part of his 8-12 night from the line.
Both Oladipo and Brogdon hit two threes as well, totaling six of Indiana’s eight made threes on 34 attempts. Many of the threes themselves were good looks, but just didn’t fall. Aaron and Justin Holiday made up for the other two makes. That means Turner, Warren, and McDermott all blanked, finishing 0-12 among them.
For Warren, this was his first action since the Orlando bubble, and he definitely played a step behind in terms of conditioning all night. His shot didn’t fall outside of his two makes in the third quarter (providing a nice boost for the team), making him an easy cover on both sides of the ball. In the case of McDermott, his attempts simply didn’t fall. He did, however, make an impact by attacking the rim, going 5-6 inside the three point arc, including 3-4 from the line.
Oladipo and Brogdon combined for 43 points. Oladipo was a force to open the third quarter, guiding the Pacers to their 83-77 third quarter lead with 11 points and four assists. Brogdon had an excellent first half, but struggled at taking shots to the basket in the third, getting blocked three times in the quarter alone. Brogdon did near a triple double of his own with 21 points, eight assists, and seven rebounds.
The backcourt do also had five of Indiana’s six attempts beyond 10 feet in what was a stark eradication of Indiana’s trademark mid-range game. Dave Searle provided a look at the difference between last year and this.
Here's a shot chart of the Pacers putting up 85 in a loss last year to the Knicks vs. tonight where they put 121 on New York in a win.— Dave Searle (@MillerTimePod) December 24, 2020
I wanted D'Antoni because I thought Indiana would thrive with a modern offense. If they can get it with an energetic young coach, even better. pic.twitter.com/s7CftV98C3
Ultimately, getting a win here was important. The Pacers are, and will continue to be, a work in progress as the First Half of the season moves forward, but given some of the difficult games coming up, they need to take care of business where they can. This will extend to their next game, a post-Christmas road trip to Chicago to face the Bulls on Saturday. Chicago will be looking for their first win after getting drubbed by Atlanta.