Iman Shumpert was soaring. Carmelo Anthony was scoring. Heck, even Quentin Richardson was bumping his skull after three-pointers. For one night, all seemed to go well for the New York Knicks, as an unbelievable scoring outburst, combined with supreme defense, turned a nail-biter into a laugher as the Knicks captured Game 2 against the Indiana Pacers.
For Knicks fans, it was a sigh of relief, a necessary victory after Sunday's disappointment. But Indiana achieved its goal and took back home-court advantage in the series. This means the Knicks will have to go into Indiana and steal a game, while protecting their home court should they hope to advance.
That task is much easier said than done. The Pacers were 30-11 this season on their home court, third-best in the Eastern Conference and tied for ninth-best with the Utah Jazz in the NBA. This postseason, they're 3-0 on their home court, all blowouts, winning by an average of 18.3 PPG.
The Knicks are a tough road team, with their 23-18 road record good enough for second-best in the Eastern Conference this season, and tied for fifth-best in the NBA. On top of that, they captured two victories in the first round in Boston, a tough place to play in its own right.
But for the Knicks to steal a game in Indiana, they're going to need Amar'e Stoudemire. The puzzling thing about Knicks fans is they seem to believe that when Stoudemire plays, he must play major minutes. That's not the case whatsoever. If Amar'e were to play 12-15 minutes off the bench, he would remove a huge burden from J.R. Smith, who has struggled mightily since his ejection in Game 3 of the Boston series.
Without an interior presence to work with, and Jason Kidd's scoring slump reaching six games, Smith has chucked up brick after brick, putting too much pressure on himself to provide the offense. Playing with Stoudemire would help free up Smith and Kidd and give the Knicks an inside force.
Through two games, the Knicks are minus-12 on the boards. Tyson Chandler has scored 12 points and grabbed seven boards in two games, a virtual non-factor on offense. Kenyon Martin is the only big man Mike Woodson feels comfortable using off the bench at this juncture, and should either Chandler or Martin get into foul trouble, the Knicks would be at a serious disadvantage.
Roy Hibbert is averaging 10 PPG, 10 RBG and 4.5 BPG in the series thus far, with frontcourt teammate David West averaging 16.5 PPG, 5 RBG and 3 APG. Simply, the Knicks are having issues with the physicality of Hibbert and West, and the addition of Stoudemire to the lineup can help mitigate this.
It's unfair to expect Amar'e to return to his All-Star self. It's incredibly risky to bring a player back for the playoffs after not playing for two months, but with the injuries to Rasheed Wallace and Kurt Thomas, the general rustiness of Marcus Camby and inexperience of Earl Barron, do the Knicks have any better options?
In two games against the Pacers this season, Stoudemire averaged 8 PPG and 7.5 RBG in just over 21 MPG. Are they otherworldly numbers? Of course not. But his presence on the court gives perimeter guys like Raymond Felton, J.R. Smith and Carmelo Anthony more freedom, as it draws Hibbert—an excellent shot-blocker—down to the post.
Knicks fans expecting Amar'e to go for 20 points next game are sorely mistaken, but not as much as those who believe the Knicks are primed for a big run without their All-Star power forward.