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Tuesday, May 7, 2013
Knicks hit Pacers' weak spot

By Brian Windhorst
ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- Two games in, this Indiana Pacers-New York Knicks series is starting to show some personality.

First, it already looks like this is going to be a long one, the somewhat misleading lopsided final score of the Knicks' 105-79 series equalizer Tuesday notwithstanding. Second, this might really come down to which team can control its demons more successfully.

Both teams have them, and when they aren't suppressed, the bottom can fall out in a hurry.

Every team, it can be said, has weak spots that can cost it games. But the makeup of the Knicks and Pacers leave them more susceptible than your average team to collapsing into an abyss. Preventing those moments from becoming overwhelming could end up deciding this series in the long run.

In Game 2, the Pacers yielded a 30-2 run between the third and fourth quarters when their incubus revealed itself and crushed their hopes of stealing another win at Madison Square Garden. At times Indiana can be just a dreadful offensive team and go through binges of turnovers.

Carmelo Anthony
The Knicks relied on Carmelo Anthony in Game 2. But unlike in Game 1, the shots fell.

Tuesday they had 21 of them, the 14th time this season the Pacers have given up at least 20 turnovers and the second time it's happened in the postseason. The Knicks scored 32 points off of them, obviously an unsurvivable total -- the 19th time this season Indiana has allowed its opponent to score more than 20 points off turnovers, and the ninth time the Pacers have allowed more than 25.

Indiana had a 22-turnover game in an opening-round Game 3 loss against the Atlanta Hawks, a game where the Pacers managed to score just 69 points.

In a regular-season game that was quite similar to Tuesday against the Knicks at the Garden less than three weeks ago, the Pacers had 26 turnovers and gave up 33 points off of them. They lost that game to the Knicks by double-digits as well.

That recent meeting between the teams, by the way, acted as a mini-playoff game because the Knicks needed to win it to wrap up the No. 2 seed over the Pacers to make sure they had the home-court advantage in this very series.

The Pacers are still in great shape with the series tied 1-1 and three of the next four games slated for Indianapolis. But they also know they've let one of their great weaknesses thwart them twice in three games against the Knicks over the last couple weeks.

It was clearly a Knicks strategy point heading into Game 2. Instead of switching defenders on pick-and-rolls, which is a staple of coach Mike Woodson's system, they elected to trap when they got the chance. The resulting pressure on the ball was a direct shot to the Pacers' Achilles' heel as the circus started and passes and dribbles started going every which way.

It's not just the result of the turnovers that causes the Pacers problems, it's the lost possessions. Indiana ranks in the bottom 10 in the league in just about every major offensive category and it just can't afford to hemorrhage chances.

It's the line they're going to have to walk the rest of the series because you can bet it will continue to be at the heart of the Knicks' defensive game plan.

"We've talked about that all year: When we turn the ball over at a high rate we're not going to be very successful," Pacers forward David West said. "We've got to get shots on every opportunity that we get."

But let the Knicks not cast stones. They, too, have a low threshold for catastrophe. They may have put that 30-2 run on Indiana to get Game 2, but don't forget they gave up a 24-2 run in Boston just last Friday night when their fragility was exposed.

The Knicks have a dreadful propensity to stop running any kind of offense and turning into a quivering mess. They came into Game 2 challenging history with their astonishing lack of assists, averaging just 15. It puts them at the mercy of waiting on Carmelo Anthony or J.R. Smith to get hot and bail them out.

Against a good defensive team like the Pacers, that is not a prudent strategy.

When Anthony and Smith were a combined 10-of-30 shooting late in the third quarter -- making them a woeful 57-of-182 (31 percent) over a five-game span -- the Knicks were briefly losing to the Pacers despite their own issues on this night.

Anthony finally broke out, making six of his last nine shots, to help the Knicks get separation. It was the first time Anthony shot 50 percent in a game in more than a month and the first time in 10 games the Knicks cracked 100 points.

That spurt made for a feel-good night as the Knicks actually reached 20 assists -- just the second time in the playoffs they've had more than 15 -- as the game quickly turned into a blowout. The ball moves and Anthony or Smith make shots and the Knicks look like the East's second-best team again. The Knicks fall into a rut, which during the playoffs has always been just a few loose possessions away, and they're a much more beatable team.

"When shots go in it eases up everything," Anthony said. "It takes the stress off things."

That certainly is the Knicks' credo. But what about when those shots don't and it is time to run some actions or try to get to the foul line?

This simple crux could end up determining whether the Knicks can weather the Pacers in this series. They're constantly going to fight it and the Pacers have their own game plan -- where their defense hinges on Roy Hibbert's ability to challenge shots in the paint and encourage more jumpers -- aimed at flicking at the Knicks' soft spots.

Every series has its own character. Sometimes it's physical, sometimes its mental, sometimes it's the homecourt advantage, sometimes it's a star-vs.-star or coach-versus-coach battle.

This series looks like it might come down to which team can look itself in the mirror in the morning.