Like many of the Knicks, Smith was frustrated by the Pacers suffocating defense, which allowed the second-fewest points per game and the lowest field goal percentage in the league during the regular season.
If lessons have been learned, we should not expect the Knicks to dress in all-black, we should not expect Mike Woodson to be kept in the dark about his players’ pre-game plans, and we should not know what to expect — good or bad on any given night, no telling which will come when — from J.R. Smith.
We also should not expect a suspension for Smith for throwing a flagrant elbow.
But then again, when you are playing against a team that plays a self-proclaimed style known as “smashmouth basketball,” maybe we actually should expect a hothead moment from the most volatile player on the court (apologies to Kenyon Martin).
The Knicks and Pacers open their second-round series Sunday afternoon after getting the pesky Celtics and Hawks out of the way on a Friday night that turned into an elimination night as New York, Indiana, Memphis and Oklahoma City all avoided the prospect of playing a Game 7.
Unlike those lucky fellows in Miami and San Antonio, there will be no extended rest period for any of those teams. The rust factor does not apply here. Nor does the rest factor.
So what factors will be the keys to this series, which was a terrific rivalry a generation ago when Reggie Miller was a player, not a broadcaster, and when Spike Lee’s courtside seats cost a fraction of what they cost now. Here they are:
- The ‘Melo Prefix Factor: What hashtag will be most associated with the NBA’s leading scorer during the regular season? Will it be #IsoMelo? Will it be #VolumMelo? If it is either of the two, don’t expect this to be a cakewalk for the Knicks. When the ball moves, New York can be an extremely dangerous offensive team. Tyson Chandler is one of the best pick-and-roll finishers in the game, Pablo Prigioni has gained the trust of his employers and is not only a terrific passer, but has shown himself to be a clutch shooter and a prime candidate to steal at least one lazy inbounds pass per night. Jason Kidd has been slumping, but he has broken out of slumps before. If all those parts are working as part of the offense, good things will happen for the Knicks. If the ball gets into Anthony’s hands and stops, bad things will happen. He is most productive when he gets his buckets within the flow of the offense. But when he gets the ball and all other movement ceases, bad things happen more often than good. Ball movement equals success. Stagnation equals elimination.
- The David West Factor: Indiana’s free agent-to-be just got finished finishing off the Atlanta Hawks and their free-agent-to-be PF, Josh Smith, whose likely final game as a member of the Hawks was a well-chronicled microcosm of his career in this fine column. I pity the fool who decides it makes more sense to make a strong run at Smith than it does to go hard after West, whose game trumps Smith’s in every area except cool nicknames. But if one of the two is to be judged the smoover, the vote here goes to Indiana’s PF, who rarely has an inefficient night. No, he is not as athletic as Josh. But you know what? Athleticism can be overrated. I’ll take calm, cool and collected any day. Somebody has to keep West off the boards, and unless Woodson goes with a big lineup of Tyson Chandler at center and Kenyon Martin at the 4, that somebody is probably going to be Anthony — which means he’ll be exerting every bit as much effort on defense as he will on offense. How will that translate into what Anthony will be able to do on the offensive end of the court? Good question. That’s why it’s a key factor.
- The Tempo Factor. The Knicks are old, but they prefer to play fast. The Pacers are quite young by comparison, but they like to play at 78 RPM. (Ask your granddad). In their final two games against Atlanta, they held the Hawks to 83 and then 73 points. When they played the Knicks during the regular season, they held New York to 88, 76, 91 and 90 points as the teams split the season series. In a 125-91 victory on Feb. 20, the Pacers had their highest point total of the season (they ranked 23rd in points and 28th in assists but 1st in rebounding). If the Knicks can manage to score 100 points in any game, it should be their magic number. If the games are played in the 80s and 90s, it’ll likely come down to execution in the final 3 minutes. Which leads us back to Factor #1 — will the Knicks move the ball on critical late possessions, or will they clear out and let ‘Melo try to carry them?
- The My Award Is Better Than Your Award Factor: We already knew that J.R. Smith runs hot-and-cold more than a broken faucet. It has been that was throughout his career, and he ran hot enough times during the year to earn the Sixth Man Award. But he also missed his first 10 shots in the Knicks’ ill-advised, ill-executed all-black garb Game 5 against the Celtics, and he made only one 3-point shot in the closeout win over Boston. What we didn’t realize about Paul George, the NBA’s Most Improved Player, is how hot and cold he can run. In Game 1 against Atlanta, he had a triple-double of 23 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists, getting to the FT line 18 times. In the closeout Game 6, he had four points in 44 minutes, missed all five of his 3-point attempts, didn’t get to the line once and was outscored by teammate Tyler Hansbrough, who played 6 minutes. Both teams have other guys who can score. But the Pacers need consistency from George more than the Knicks need it from Smith if they are going to make it out of this round.
- The Jason Kidd Factor: To repeat, he is not a point guard anymore. He is a spot-up 3-point shooter, and he has a knack for knocking down daggers late in games. He is a veteran presence in the locker room, one of the coolest heads in the league, but he is a shell of the player he once was — and he is slumping. In the series against the Celtics, he shot 3-for-17. He has gone four straight games without making a 3-pointer — a huge factor because the old man took 79 percent of his field goal attempts from behind the arc during the regular season. How many times during the season did he go four straight games without making a single 3-pointer? None. Undoubtedly, unquestionably (to me) the x-factor for the Knicks. Too much Smith and not enough Kidd (assuming Kidd breaks out of this slump) is not a good thing for New York. Balance from the two of them? It’ll make all the difference.
SHERIDAN: Knicks in 7.
HUBBARD: Pacers in 6.
HEISLER: Knicks in 6.
BERNUCCA: Knicks in 7.
HAMILTON: Knicks in 6.
PERKINS: Knicks in 6.
SCHAYES: Knicks in 7.
ANDY KAMENETZKY: Pacers in 6.
BRIAN KAMENETZKY: Pacers in 7.
ZAGORIA: Knicks in 6.
PARK: Knicks in 7.
Can a team win with its star player only scoring one point per shot? It’s not going so well over the past few games for Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks. Which players drive the Pacers in its incredibly volatile series against Atlanta? Can Oklahoma City win with Reggie Jackson as its second option on offense. We’re going behind the numbers from Wednesday night’s trio of Game Fives in today’s StatBox playoff breakdown.
Knicks won’t win with VoluMelo
The Knicks let a veteran team like the Celtics hang around on Wednesday in Boston’s 92-86 win and gain some confidence going into Friday night’s Game 6. The Knicks shot under 40 percent, and a lot of that has to do with the inefficient play of its best player.
The New York Knicks have a superstar player in Carmelo Anthony when he’s an efficient shooter and passer out of double teams. There seems to only a slight difference in Anthony’s performance in wins and losses during the regular season, but it’s enough of a difference to point out some tendencies.
|Carmelo Anthony||Shots||FG %||3 FG %||Points||Rebounds||FTA||FT %|
In losses, Anthony takes more shots at a pedestrian percentage across the board. The higher rebounding and free throw attempt numbers are due to his increased minutes in losses (39.2) rather than wins (36.1). What the Knicks have seen from its best player over the last three games is something/someone I call VoluMelo. He’s become a volume shooter who’s basketball-monopolizing approach hurts the team.
It doesn’t take a mathematical savant to realize that a player isn’t being efficient when he’s taking as many shots as the points he scores. In the last three games, Anthony scored 84 points on 84 shots. That’s really, really bad, considering shots are worth two or three points and there are free throws, as well. Anthony scored 70 points on 53 shots in the first two games, and even that’s not amazing.
“I told you from Game 1 that this wasn’t going to be a breeze. It wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. Them guys were going to fight and they’re showing some fight right now,” Anthony said. “They threw a couple punches at us now and it’s time for us to do the same.”
The way Anthony is shooting, he seems to be throwing a punch or two at his own team. Until New York gets Melo instead of VoluMelo, the Knicks are going to be in deep trouble against the Celtics.
Panicked Pacers persevere
After squandering a 2-0 series lead, the Indiana Pacers were panicking. But in Wednesday’s Game 5, Indiana went back to what got them the Eastern Conference’s third seed: elite level defense and other-worldly efficiency from the frontcourt.
It was a defensive tour-de-force in the Pacers’ 106-83 win, limiting the Hawks to 33.3 percent shooting. Josh Smith, Al Horford and Jeff Teague combined to shoot 13- for-46 from the field. On the other hand, the Indiana frontcourt trio of Roy Hibbert, David West and Paul George shot 21-for-31 as part of a Pacer offense that shot 50.7 percent from the floor.
“This is the first time that I felt like we’ve played true defense in this series,” West said. “I thought everyone came in and stayed with the game plan in terms of being aggressive, and our hands were active and we just made plays on the defensive end.”
As you’ll see in this nice info-graphic, the Pacers go as far as Hibbert, West and George take them:
|Pacer Frontcourt||FG %||Points||Rebounds||FTA||Plus/Minus|
When the trio got aggressive and went to the free throw line at least 19 times, they won. Whenever the players had a positive plus/minus, Indiana won. If the Pacers want to close out the Hawks in Game 6 and win the first road game of the series, you’ll know where to look for Indiana’s production.
Are the thin Thunder in trouble?
Russell Westbrook is injured. James Harden is on the other team. So who’s the second option for the Oklahoma City Thunder besides Kevin Durant? Reggie Jackson took the second most shots on the team in Wednesday’s 107-100 loss to Houston that was troublesome for the West’s
second seed top seed to say the very least.
Kevin Martin shot 1-for-10 and the OKC bench scored a total of 19 points on 23 shots. Even without Jeremy Lin on Wednesday, Houston went eight deep and got a combined 32 points from afterthoughts Francisco Garcia and Patrick Beverley. During the regular season, Jackson took 4.6 shots per game. During the postseason, that average is up to 10 attempts per contest and rising. Jackson is not a second scoring option for a playoff team. It’s that simple.
Serge Ibaka shot 6-for-14 in the Game 5 defeat, and he and Martin need to many more touches if the Thunder plan on advancing to the second round against either the Clippers or Grizzlies. If not, the team’s management may be kicking itself for sacrificing its short-term depth with Harden.
Shlomo Sprung loves advanced statistics and the way they explain what happens on the court. He is also the web editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. A 2011 graduate of Columbia University’s Journalism School, he has previously worked for the New York Knicks, The Sporting News, Business Insider and other publications. His website is SprungOnSports.com. You can follow him on Twitter.
Opportunity doesn’t knock twice. For the Nets, a banged up Bulls team gave the Nets a chance to stay in this series. Thanks to Brook Lopez, Brooklyn is still alive. Home playoff games afforded the Hawks the chance to reverse their fortunes, but how drastically it turned this series around is astounding. And who will get the opportunity to shine for the Thunder in Russell Westbrook’s absence? All this and more in today’s StatBox playoff breakdown.
Apparently, someone in the marketing department didn’t understand symbolism. By halftime, those towels had become flags of surrender for the Lakers, the biggest underachieving team in the history of the NBA.
Dwight Howard offered his own symbolism, figuratively throwing in the towel midway through the third quarter. Unwilling to grit his teeth and bang and bump his way through all of another telling, embarrassing loss, he got himself ejected, starting his offseason of uncertainty with an hour’s headstart on his teammates.
Dwight Howard, human surrender flag. Yeah, there’s the sort of toughness you want to build a franchise around.