Commentary

Knicks-Pacers: What we've learned

Updated: May 16, 2013, 4:56 PM ET
By Israel Gutierrez | ESPN.com

It's amazing how much clarity the playoffs bring.

You can play an entire 82-game schedule over a six-month span and not learn nearly as much about a team as you do by simply playing the same opponent over and over again in a two-week span.

In this Knicks-Pacers series, with the Pacers leading 3-1 entering Thursday's game in New York, it's the Knicks who have exposed their ugliest side, leaving them open to thorough scrutiny. But it's not only the Knicks' warts that have been exposed so far.

Here's what we've learned:

Mike Woodson deserves credit/blame

Here we thought the Knicks had finally settled on an identity. The team that averaged 103.9 points over its last 18 games in the regular season and went 16-2 was the true version of the Knicks. It was, after all, similar to the Knicks team that started the season, knocking down 3s at a remarkable pace, sharing the ball enough that both Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith could get their numbers without bogging down the offense and taking advantage of a smallish lineup that featured Melo at the power forward spot and a pair, any pair, of point guards on the floor at once.

And for developing that, Woodson deserves plenty of praise. We weren't exactly sure how the oldest team in NBA history would be molded, but to be that regularly explosive was a genuine surprise.

But then came the postseason, and suddenly the Woodson Knicks were as unreliable as the Woodson Hawks were. Despite the success in the regular season, the Knicks weren't trusting enough in their own offense to rely on it, instead going to their default mode that includes a lot more isolation of Anthony and Smith.

And Woodson hasn't helped matters in this series. He has enabled the instability by making desperate and questionable lineup changes.

He went big to match the Pacers in Game 4, putting Kenyon Martin in the starting lienup and tossing the idea of starting two point guards, which worked so well for the Knicks all season. And in choosing his point guards, he stuck with the player who hasn't made a shot since April 23 (Jason Kidd) for 16 minutes ahead of more stable Pablo Prigioni.

When Woodson does go small, he doesn't fully commit to it, leaving shooters such as Chris Copeland and Steve Novak on the bench regularly. Isn't the idea of going small to make offense a priority? Well, apparently not for Woodson.


The Pacers could use Danny Granger but don't miss him much

The Pacers are one of those rare groups not defined by their leading scorer. Technically, Paul George would appear to be their best player, leading the team in scoring (18.3) and assists (5.0) in these playoffs. But the Pacers, unlike the Knicks, have remained true to their system, which includes plenty of post-ups for David West and Roy Hibbert, therefore limiting the pressure on George. That means he can have poor shooting nights -- and he has had plenty this postseason, shooting at just a 38.6 percent clip -- and Indy can still be effective.

The primary reason for that is George's all-around game. In his worst shooting night of this series (4-of-17, including 2-of-12 from 3), George still offered up 8 rebounds, 8 assists and 5 steals. He followed that up in Game 4 with just six makes in 19 attempts, but added 14 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks.

You didn't get that kind of all-around production when Granger was the leading offensive presence last season and George was, as his own coach called him, an "afterthought offensively."

It was Granger's absence for most of this season that allowed George to mature into the player who can carry his team to three wins against the Knicks. And Lance Stephenson has essentially filled the role George played last playoffs: a defensive-minded player whose offensive production is a pleasant bonus.

That doesn't mean the Pacers are better without Granger, though. Frank Vogel mixes and matches at times with players off his bench, and one thing that's missing is a consistent scoring threat on that second unit. Sam Young, D.J. Augustin or Gerald Green can be that person at times, but it would make life for Indiana a lot easier if it were Granger offering that consistent offensive relief.


It's Amar'e or bust for the Knicks

You see the look on the face of Anthony after he's forced into one difficult shot-clock-beating jumper after another? It's similar to the look Kevin Durant had throughout the fourth quarters of his second-round experience against the Grizzlies. For that matter, it was the same look we saw from LeBron James so often, before he tore off that Cleveland Cavaliers jersey for the final time.

Against a regularly dominant defense such as that of the Pacers -- a team that can zero in on a scorer like Melo without opening up many opportunities for others -- Anthony's going to need the type of superstar help LeBron enlisted in Miami. Problem is, that's nearly impossible to accomplish given New York's payroll status and the practically immovable contract of Amar'e Stoudemire.

For most of this season, and even in the series against Boston, we tended to ignore the future of the Knicks because their present success was so refreshing for the franchise. But one truism has been brought to light in this series: Any team that has J.R. Smith as its second-best player is going to have consistency issues.

With the contracts of Anthony, Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler weighing them down, the Knicks have limited options when it comes to improving for next season. Even keeping Smith, who very likely will become a free agent this offseason, is no certainty.

That leaves Stoudemire, once again, as the player the Knicks must rely on to take that next step into true contender status. It's not his talent that's the question. It's always his health. And that will leave Knicks fans with an uneasy feeling despite a second-round appearance for the first time in 13 years.


Pacers' offense/turnovers eventually will be problematic

For all the success the Pacers are experiencing in this series, there is one particularly troubling element that could come back to bite them, assuming their postseason continues against Miami.

Indiana's turnovers, with George as the primary playmaker, can pile up in a hurry.

In the first four games against the Knicks, the Pacers turned the ball over 16, 21, 17 and 12 times. The 21-turnover game was New York's only win, which included a 30-2 Knicks run.

George is the primary culprit here, turning the ball over 21 times in the first four games, one more than his 20 assists for the series. He had his turnover problems early in the season, mostly because he tried to split defenders on pick-and-rolls too often. He had settled some, but, in this Knicks series, turnovers have become an issue again.

Although New York hasn't capitalized that much, the next team George would face thrives off such mistakes. The Heat would turn more of those turnovers into fast-break opportunities. And even the dead-ball turnovers would be problematic because the Heat's offense is far more efficient than New York's right now.

The Pacers might play differently against Miami, relying even more on post-ups of West and Hibbert against the smaller Heat. But George will be required to create against a swarming Heat defense. And a 0.95 assist-to-turnover to ratio isn't going to cut it.

Israel Gutierrez is an NBA writer for ESPN.com.