PBT NBA Playoff Preview: Indiana Pacers vs. New York Knicks
Indiana: 49-32, three seed in the East
New York: 54-28, two seed in the East.
Indiana: Beat the Atlanta Hawks 4-2
New York: Beat the Boston Celtics 4-2
The teams split the season series, each winning two games apiece.
Amar’e Stoudemire has been out for the Knicks with a knee injury since the beginning of March, but the hope is that he’ll be able to return at some point during this series.
OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possession) – PLAYOFFS ONLY
Indiana: Offense 100.1 (tied for 10th in the postseason), Defense 96.4 (4th in the postseason)
New York: Offense 96.9 (12th in the postseason), Defense 90.8 (2nd in the postseason)
THREE KEYS TO THE SERIES:
Knicks in isolation: New York’s offense was ranked third in the league during the regular season in points scored per 100 possessions, just below the teams that finished with the two best records in the league, the Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder. Part of their struggles in the playoffs have been due to facing a Celtics team that will never stop working defensively, but a large portion of the pain has been self-inflicted.
Th Knicks offense was at its regular season best when the ball was moving until it found a shooter who had an open look. Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith are both capable of making difficult, highly-contested long jump shots, but not with any masure of consistency, so why put them in that position more often than is necessary?
ESPN’s TrueHoop has the numbers, which say that New York in the regular season saw 15.5 percent of its offensive plays end in isolation sets. In the postseason, that number has jumped to 27.3 percent, while the field goal percentage in those situations has dipped by almost seven points.
Live by the three, die by the three: The Knicks led the league in three-pointers made per game during the regular season, but were almost three per game blow that average in their first round playoff series with the Celtics. The Pacers, meanwhile, were just middle of the pack in that department in the regular season, but are down in the playoffs, as well.
Pacers head coach Frank Vogel rightly believes that slowing the Knicks long-range attack will be one of the biggest keys for his team in this series.
''They’re the best 3-point shooting team in history. They made more 3s this year than any other team in NBA history. So we understand what they’re capable,’' Pacers coach Frank Vogel said, via Brian Mahoney of the Associated Press. ''We led the league in guarding the 3 this year. We have a great deal of confidence that we can guard them if we execute our defense the way we’re supposed to.’'
Indiana’s offense: We know that the Pacers can give the Knicks the kind of fits thy had in stretches while trying to manufacture offense against the Celtics. What’s less clear is Indiana’s ability to score consistently throughout the series, and get buckets in critical situations down the stretch of tight games.
The Pacers threw up just 69 points in one of their losses to the Hawks in the first round of the playoffs, and managed just 81 points in the series-clinching Game 6 victory. They might be able to get away with a low scoring output once against New York, but to win four times and advance, they’ll need to score consistently while playing their brand of hard-nosed defense at a high level throughout the series.
This isn’t a great matchup for the Knicks, considering that the level of defense the Pacers bring will be similar to that which they struggled with in the first round against the Celtics. The difference is that the Pacers are a younger and more athletic team that shouldn’t have nearly as much trouble as Boston did trying to score for long stretches, but in the end, I think home court advantage along with the presence of Carmelo Anthony will be too much for Indiana to overcome.
Knicks in seven.