Through two games of the series, no one can tell which is the superior team between the Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks. Indy took Game 1 by seven points while New York dominated the second half of Game 2 and coasted to a 26-point victory.
Not only did the Knicks salvage a split to avoid an ominous 0-2 abyss, but they served notice on the Pacers that they cannot be stopped when firing on all cylinders.
After trailing for all of Game 2, Indy grabbed a two-point advantage with 3:28 left in the third quarter. Shortly thereafter, Frank Vogel called his infamous timeout and subbed Roy Hibbert out of the game.
That's when the Knicks went ballistic. With scoring champ Carmelo Anthony leading the assault, New York reeled off a 30-2 run, an unthinkable feat in the playoffs. Their defense held Indy without a field goal for more than 12 minutes.
But the highlight of the night, and perhaps the year, undoubtedly came on Iman Shumpert's ferocious putback slam. Eat your heart out, Derrick Rose's knee.
With the series even and swinging back to Indianapolis, the Knicks will look to regain home-court advantage by stealing at least one road win while the Pacers try to get up off the mat following The Timeout.
Time: Saturday, May 11, 8:00 p.m. ET
Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Ind.
Series Record: Tied at 1-1
Game 3 Key Storyline: Whither Amar'e? Whither J.R.?
You know what you're getting from the Pacers. Their offense deserts them at times (PG George Hill shot 9-of-28 in the first two games), but they almost always play tough defense.
Their physical frontcourt trio of Paul George, David West and Hibbert allow very few easy buckets, and as a team, the Pacers essentially make the painted area closed for business. They will be fuming at home after the second-half annihilation in Game 2 and figure to come out playing angry.
But which Knicks will we see, literally and figuratively?
Amar'e Stoudemire—returning from a second debridement procedure on his left knee—will play in Game 3, but coach Mike Woodson tempered expectations, saying, "It won't be very many minutes. I'm thinking somewhere between 10 and 15 minutes, if that" (per Jared Zwerling of ESPNNewYork.com).
Stoudemire looked strong for stretches of the regular season, but he may have returned to duty too soon following his first knee operation.
Woodson admitted as much, stating, "I thought maybe we might have pushed a little too much early on, so we've got to be really cautious this time around—just to make sure that we're doing the right things with him."
Stoudemire played in only 29 games after returning in January but still posted a pretty stat line (14.2 points on 57.7 percent shooting and five boards, including 2.1 on the offensive glass in 23.5 minutes).
Now, the same questions abound for Amar'e regarding how he will fit into the Knicks three-guard rotation, whether he can mesh with Melo and how his defense will impact New York's play.
As for who will sacrifice their playing time, Stoudemire's 10 to 15 minutes likely will be pared away from Jason Kidd (who has not scored a single point since Game 2 against the Boston Celtics despite playing 141 minutes in six games since then), Chris Copeland and Sixth Man of the Year J.R. Smith.
Woodson also addressed the possibility of Smith seeing reduced playing time (on the The Stephen A. Smith and Ryan Ruocco Show, via Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com):
I'll gauge J.R. as we go along and if I feel he's not giving me anything, I could always turn to other guys on that bench...He's missing shots and he's not playing well from an offensive standpoint. I think he's giving us a lot defensively. And that's why he's staying out there on the floor because he's holding his own defensively and he's rebounding some for us at his position.
Smith has struggled mightily since earning a suspension for Game 4 against Boston because of his elbow to Jason Terry's jawbone. In the four games since, he has shot just 15-of-57 (26.3 percent) from the field.
But as Woodson stated, Smith still provides energetic defense and solid rebounding from the guard position (22 boards in those four games), so he's hardly a dead weight. Nevertheless, his primary job is to score.
Smith also picked up a $5,000 fine for flopping in Game 1, when he exaggerated contact on a David West screen and drew a foul (per Mitch Abramson of the New York Daily News). If he can get things going in the right direction, it would be a tremendous boon to the Knicks.
Series Star So Far: Carmelo Anthony
Even when Smith is tossing up enough bricks to build a new Madison Square Garden, if Carmelo plays at his best, the Knicks are easily the second best team in the East.
Anthony battled through his balky shoulder and drained 22 second-half points, including 16 points during the incredible run.
When he's rolling, the rest of the team feeds off that energy on both ends of the floor, and his gutsy play helped spark New York's furious run which knotted the series at a game apiece.
Projected Starting Lineups
Knicks: Pablo Prigioni, PG; Raymond Felton, SG; Iman Shumpert, SF; Carmelo Anthony, PF; Tyson Chandler, C
Pacers: George Hill, PG; Lance Stephenson, SG; Paul George, SF; David West, PF; Roy Hibbert, C
Knicks Injury Report (via CBSSports.com)
Raymond Felton (ankle), probable; Amar'e Stoudemire (knee), questionable
Pacers Injury Report
Danny Granger (knee), out for season
Knicks Will Win If...
They keep the rebounding margin close and attempt plenty of open three-pointers.
In Game 1, the Knicks got killed on the glass 44 to 30 and 11 to six on the offensive boards. They reversed that trend in the second game behind a strong rebounding effort from Anthony.
But Kenyon Martin and Tyson Chandler have not made much of an impact in that area, totaling just 11 rebounds between them in the first two games of the series.
Martin had lobbied for Woodson to go big and insert him in the starting lineup for Game 2 (per Frank Isola of the New York Daily News). While K-Mart remained part of the bench mob, he played effectively and showed good burst in taking the ball to the hoop from above the foul line at least twice in the win.
Now if he could just crash the boards as well.
New York also attempted only 19 three-pointers in their Game 1 defeat, going away from their bread and butter which saw them attempt nearly 29 per game during the season.
They threw up 30 treys in Game 2, sinking only 10 of them, but the volume of attempts signals strong ball movement and the availability of open shots from behind the arc. They can't get away from their identity as a three-point team, especially against a defense that led the league in efficiency.
Pacers Will Win If...
They limit their turnovers and keep the Knicks out of the paint.
Game 2 was a nightmare for the Pacers, as they got taken away from their brand of basketball. They coughed up 21 turnovers leading to 32 points for New York, while the Knicks committed only seven turnovers of their own leading to six measly points.
Indy also got outscored in the paint 52-40 after enjoying a 14-point advantage there in Game 1.
The Knicks offense is built around ball movement and working for open jump shots, but they forget to do that sometimes and become one-dimensional in isolation. This tends to happen when they can't get the ball near the paint, and the offense grinds to a halt.
If the Pacers can limit their own mistakes and turn all the Knicks but Carmelo into spectators, Game 3 will be theirs for the taking.
After Melo admitted that the Knicks got "outplayed and outworked" in Game 1, they responded in a big way with a Game 2 win (per Isola).
But the Pacers won't go down without a fight, and they'll be eager to avenge their embarrassing second-half swoon. Their defense keys their offense, and look for them to be swarming in Game 3.
While the Knicks have too much quality to fall behind 3-1, there will be an adjustment period as they work Stoudemire back into the rotation for the first time since March 7.
Indy will play with fire and capture Game 3.
Prediction: Pacers 92, Knicks 85