Amar'e Stoudemire Plays Little Minutes, but Takes Big Steps

Michael PerchickCorrespondent IMay 12, 2013

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 07:  Amar'e Stoudemire #1 of the New York Knicks reacts to a call in the first half against the Oklahoma City Thunder on March 7, 2013 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Lost in the mix of the New York Knicks embarrassing 82-71 loss to the Indiana Pacers last night was the return of former All-Star power forward Amar'e Stoudemire.  

Despite playing just under nine minutes last night, Knick fans should be encouraged by Stoudemire's brief performance.

The box score will show that Stoudemire scored seven points and grabbed two rebounds while shooting 3-of-8 from the field.  One of his shots was blocked, which is not surprising considering his general lack of explosiveness, being so fresh off a knee injury that cost him the past two months.  But overall, in a tough atmosphere and battling rustiness, Amar'e showed good signs

Before the game, coach Mike Woodson claimed that he believed Stoudemire could play "10-15 minutes," and his 8:56 of court-time was just under the lower expectation.  While a few more minutes likely would not have changed the final outcome of the game, expect him to play closer to 12-15 minutes in Game 4.

All night, Roy Hibbert had his way inside, going for 24 points and 12 rebounds.  David West also chipped in with a double-double of his own, scoring 11 points while grabbing 12 boards.  Overall, the Knicks were out-rebounded 53-40, including 18-10 on the offensive glass, a trend that cannot continue should the Knicks advance.

In the Pacers' two victories, Indiana is 25-plus on the boards.  In the Knicks' victory, New York is 2-plus. Simply put, the team that has won the rebounding battle has won each game so far. 

Stoudemire's inclusion in the lineup should help the Knicks make up some of the rebounding deficiencies that they've experienced thus far. 

More importantly, it will give the Knicks a major scoring threat, particularly on the inside, which they've lacked most of the season.  So far this series, the Knicks are averaging only 90.3 PPG, well below their season average of 100 PPG.  While STAT won't come back and average 20 and 10, he should be good for 10 points off the bench if he hits the 15-minute mark.

His importance is highlighted with the general ineffectiveness of All-Star Tyson Chandler, who has been rendered ineffective by Roy Hibbert.  After averaging 10.4 PPG and 10.7 RBG this season, Chandler's numbers have taken a major drop in the playoffs.  In nine playoff games, he's averaging only 5.8 PPG and 7.1 RBG.  His minutes are way down from the regular season (28.9 MPG in the playoffs vs. 32.8 MPG in the regular season), a sign that he may not be 100 percent healthy yet.  

While on the court, Amar'e's plus/minus was 0, which isn't great, but certainly not bad considering the Knicks lost by 11.  In comparison, the Knicks starting front court of Tyson Chandler, Carmelo Anthony, and Iman Shumpert were a combined minus-35.

Mike Woodson should seriously consider playing Carmelo Anthony with STAT, as it could free him up.  Anthony has yet to shoot better than 50 percent in any playoff game, and his 6-of-16 performance last night won't get it done.  

With Stoudemire on the court, Roy Hibbert will have to back down closer to the basket, unable to provide sufficient help defense on the perimeter.  This will free up Anthony, and allow the Knicks better shot opportunities, especially from behind the arc.

A common theme of the series was the Pacers excellent three-point defense against the Knicks excellent three-point shooting.  Over the course of the season, the Knicks led the NBA with 10.9 three-pointers per game, while the Pacers allowed 5.4 three-pointers per game.  

On top of that, teams shot only 32.7 percent in the NBA, also tops in the league.  While Amar'e is not a three-point shooter, the lack of an interior presence has allowed teams to move their defensive pressure towards the arc.  

Last night, the Knicks attempted only 11 three-pointers, two of which were in the final two minutes, when the game was well out of reach.  The more minutes Amar'e plays, the better looks perimeter shooters like J.R. Smith and Raymond Felton will get.

Stoudemire isn't the be-all and end-all in the Knicks championship chances, but last night's efforts show that he can make a big impact in a game, despite seeing little action.