WHAT IT MEANS: The NBA is a hard place to win games. For most of three quarters, the Knicks looked not only better, but vastly superior to the Pacers. That seemed especially true when a Steve Novak 3 with 55 seconds left in the third gave the Knicks an 87-70 lead.
Then came the fourth quarter, and the inevitable run that seemingly comes in every NBA game. But this wasn't a fluke. With Danny Granger scoring 11 points, the Pacers opened the final stanza 22-6 to grab the lead. A largely quiet Fieldhouse crowd -- liberally peppered with Knicks fans -- came alive, and what had appeared to be a Tuesday night snoozer turned into one of those "I love this game" games.
Tonight's 112-104 loss showed New York's gold -- both the genuine, 24-karat variety, and the fool's kind.
In the second and third quarter, the Knicks mined the defensive end and controlled the game. In those two quarters, they outscored the Pacers 56-41. They announced themselves as a serious force in the East, and a better team than the Pacers.
But, throughout the game, they got a lot of mileage out of isolation and 3-pointers. Both of these can go away, and they did in the fourth. Carmelo Anthony is a great player, and the Knicks have plenty of shooters, but, it's ball movement and that ugly, aggressive brand of defense that makes this New York team good. Those need to be the foundation.
THE GOOD: At this point, it feels like this category should perhaps be renamed from "THE GOOD" to "THE DEFENSE." The Knicks entered the game ranked fourth in Defensive Efficiency. They've spent the last several seasons hovering deep in the 20s and haven't been better than 15th since Jeff Van Gundy's last full season in 2000-2001.
In the second and third quarter, the Knicks locked down the Pacers, allowing only 91 points per 100. This is the foundation of a good team.
THE BAD: The first quarter defense was AWOL in Bankers Life Fieldhouse for the second time, allowing the Pacers an to shoot 52 percent and post an offensive efficiency of over 140. It didn't help matters that the Pacers grabbed five offensive boards in the quarter, too. Still, it ultimately didn't matter, as the Knicks hit 10-of-16 in the quarter (including 4-of-7 threes) to get out of it with a 31-31 tie.
Allowing 40 fourth-quarter points -- need I say more?
MAKING YOUR WEAKNESS A STRENGTH: With all of the injuries, the Knicks are forced to start Anthony at power forward. However, that ended up being to their advantage at both ends. Early in the game, Indiana was borderline obsessed with exploiting their size advantage, running the ball through the post on each of their first eight possessions. While the Pacers had some success, it mostly slowed the game down into a half court affair -- one where the Knicks defense held the upper hand.
At the other end, the Pacers simply had no one to guard Melo. David West couldn't extend to challenge the jumper, so Anthony's first looks were open pull up jumpers. That got him going, and when West -- or any other Pacer defender -- came out to challenge him, Melo just blew past 'em for the easy layup. All of this spread the Pacers out, creating open looks for the Knicks' shooters.
THE X FACTOR: The Pacers made their comeback with a lineup that could be described as "eclectic." Joining starters Danny Granger and Paul George on the floor were George Hill, Leandro Barbosa, and Lou Amundson. While Granger's 14 points did most of the damage, Amundson had a big impact on the tenor of the game with four rebounds -- all on the offensive glass -- and four points.
UP NEXT: The Knicks are heading down to Orlando to face the Magic on Thursday night. Last Wednesday, in New York, the Knicks outscored Orlando 65-30 in the second and third quarters on their way to a 22-point win.