The New York Knicks may have been defeated again, dropping another winnable game at the very end, but the game was a strong step forward for the struggling team. The Knicks showed strong resolve and determination, fighting harder than they’ve fought all year, but it just wasn’t quite enough to upset the Indiana Pacers.
New York opened with the same starting lineup as the previous game, but their play was remarkably different. The Knicks moved the ball quickly to generate open shots and their defense hustled to force the Pacers to take tough shots. They raced out to a 13-0 lead before Indiana tightened up a bit defensively.
Even when the Knicks’ offense got bogged down, it was less because of selfishness and laziness and more because the Pacers’ stout defense made things difficult. New York wasted a lot less time dribbling aimlessly, instead opting to create player movement in their offensive sets.
Defensively, the Knicks were much improved. Kenyon Martin was rock solid in his role as defensive anchor despite his size disadvantage against the Pacers’ mammoth front court. The Knicks also did a much better job preventing dribble penetration, surrendering just 32 points in the paint despite the Pacers’ size and skill. Iman Shumpert generally did a terrific job on Paul George (George took non-Shumpert defenders to school), but George hit some tough shots when it counted. Unfortunately, Shump’s defensive effort was for naught, and a ticky-tack foul on a three-point attempt allowed the Pacers to tie the game at the end of regulation. The Knicks were a plus-six with Shump on the floor.
Andrea Bargnani and Carmelo Anthony got into foul trouble and shot poorly from the field, but they competed on the glass and Melo was able to generate offense in a rough shooting night by hitting the offense glass hard, creating nine second chance opportunities (he also had nine defensive boards). When his shot went cold (he was just 10-for-28) he looked to use his strength advantage to post up Paul George and he earned 10 free throw attempts.
J.R. Smith and Beno Udrih had their best games of the season. Two of Beno’s makes were absolutely silly and/or lucky, but he was pretty effective off the dribble and he hit three of his four attempts from deep while also pulling down eight boards. Smith went cold in overtime, but he hit some big shots throughout, including four threes and a few spinning, twisting layups. Beno may have earned himself some more playing time going forward. Even if Mike Woodson decides he doesn’t want to run him as part of a two-point guard lineup, he should probably be able to dip into Raymond Felton‘s playing time a bit after he returns.
Towards the end of a hard-fought game (on the tail end of a back-to-back, no less) with a newly shortened rotation (Tim Hardaway Jr. hardly played and Amar’e Stoudemire didn’t play at all), the Knicks started to get tired and make some mistakes. They made a few costly errors in transition defense late, letting George Hill get open looks from three and they started to turn the ball over a bit in the fourth. They had a chance to win it on the game’s last possession but the Melo isolation came up short. It might’ve been better to have drawn up a play with a bit more movement, but it’s hard to get too upset about them drawing up a quick isolation for their best scorer, especially considering he got relatively close to the hoop.
Overtime belonged entirely to the Pacers, as the Knicks simply didn’t have enough left in the tank to compete with them. While I don’t believe in “moral victories” in cases like these and the Knicks shouldn’t either, there’s no doubt that this was a very encouraging performance for New York. Hopefully, they were able to build the confidence they need going forward and get themselves in the right mindset to play winning basketball.