Mike Woodson has been trying too hard to search for answers offensively.
He had Chris Copeland right there sitting behind him on the bench.
After two losses in which the Knicks averaged 76.5 points, Woodson announced on Thursday that he would play Copeland more minutes in Game 5 to give the team a scoring boost. That's just what "I Get Buckets" (Copeland's nickname) did.
Woodson initially called Copeland's name at the start of the second quarter to replace Carmelo Anthony. That's when Copeland went to work, but he didn't do it with his scoring. His first big play was a defensive rebound. That not only cut off a Pacers second-chance opportunity, which had been plaguing the Knicks all series, but it enabled the Knicks to get out and run -- something else they hadn't been doing. After securing the miss, Copeland passed the ball to J.R. Smith, who pushed the pace and hit a quick jump shot.
A few plays later, Copeland got his first points off of a pick-and-pop 3-pointer, which put the Knicks up 32-23. Also in the second period, he got to the foul line working the low post and made both free throws. While the Knicks shot 82.4 percent from the stripe, the Pacers were at 57.6 percent.
Then came the third quarter, when Woodson made a smart move after Roy Hibbert got called for his fourth foul and Frank Vogel subbed him out. Woodson put Copeland back in the game, and the Knicks gained an advantage with more of a versatile spread-out offense centering around Copeland and Anthony.
When Copeland was playing, his inside-out scoring ability surprised his defensive assignment, David West. On one play, Copeland beat out West for an offensive rebound, converting the putback layup, and on another he dished to Anthony inside for a layup. Copeland also drained one of his three 3-pointers of the night with West late contesting, which put the Knicks up 53-44.
"Not surprised," Vogel said of Copeland's breakthrough performance in the series. "We thought we'd see him some of the series. We know he's a terrific offensive player, and you have to honor him at the 3-point line."
Copeland also played in the fourth quarter, hitting a 3-pointer and stealing a pass. With his presence on the court, alongside Anthony, it forced two Pacers bigs to play further out, leaving the paint area more open. The Knicks, therefore, were able to capitalize on penetration and kick-outs.
"I think I can help us by spreading the floor and getting those guys away from the basket," Copeland said. "I'm just trying to make spacing better by being out there on the wing."
Copeland's "big lift" in Game 5, as Woodson called it after the game, secured him a spot in the postgame news conference room -- his first as an NBA rookie. Before he walked in, he told ESPNNewYork.com, smiling, "I hope I don't stutter."
But he was as poised as can be, even sharing a laugh with reporters as he showed them the pink Disney Princess backpack he's had to carry all season as part of his rookie hazing from Marcus Camby. But Copeland credited the "big-time brotherhood" of the team for helping him prepare for moments like Game 5.
"I'm extremely excited that I could have some kind of impact on the game," he said. "I just hope I can do it again next game."
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