In a perfect world we'd all be able to look at the New York Knicks' romp over the Indiana Pacers in Game 2, their riveting defensive performance, along with a breakout effort from Carmelo Anthony, and believe there's nothing to worry about in this series because it simply belongs to New York. But that would require forgetting that the only thing consistent about the Knicks is their inconsistency.
As the Knicks get set for Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semis on Saturday night, any fan would love to gloat about what they expect the Knicks to do. Except they can't.
Nobody knows if Anthony will shoot 50 percent again. The Knicks are praying J.R. Smith, who is questionable for Game 3 due to illness, will reach 40 percent. They're hoping Tyson Chandler can provide anything at all offensively, and that the returning Amar'e Stoudemire can provide anything, period. And even in the event that all these things happen, it would still be foolish to summarily dismiss the Pacers.
"That's not who we are," Pacers coach Frank Vogel said Friday, alluding to his team's dismal second-half performance in Game 2. "That's not who we're going to be. [The Knicks] got red-hot and we started playing poorly at the same time. Defensive lapses hurt us. Not keeping an eye on Melo -- and I'm not sure how we allowed that to happen against a player like him -- we just fell apart. But we're ready to put that behind us."
Can't blame him for feeling that way.
You'd feel the same way if you had a two-point lead with 3:28 left in the third quarter, only to watch your team -- after an unnecessary timeout -- surrender a 30-2 run and lose the momentum in this series. What's worse, the run was ignited by the absence of center Roy Hibbert, whom Vogel inexplicably put on the bench.
It was at that moment that Anthony started attacking the basket, driving into the lane. Melo would eventually dunk over Hibbert's replacement, Jeff Pendergraph, before finding his groove from the perimeter and starting to drain shots. Eventually the Knicks star, shooting worse than 36 percent from the field in the team's previous four playoff games, connected on 13 of 26 shots, finishing with 32 points and, more importantly, seeming to regain his confidence.
Melo was quick to say afterward that the Knicks "played with a sense of urgency." But it was more than that.
Anthony's performance had a contagious effect, as Pablo Prigioni drained two 3-pointers. Raymond Felton got more aggressive, driving to the basket. Jason Kidd's defense was suffocating, as was that of Kenyon Martin and Iman Shumpert, who provided a highlight-reel dunk and hit some perimeter shots, too.
Yet there were also too many missed shots by Smith, and too many missed rebounds and blocks by Chandler -- who coach Mike Woodson swears was "100 percent better than he was in Game 1." We still don't know which Knicks team will show up from day to day.
"We know we've got our work cut out for us," Woodson proclaimed Tuesday. "We respect the Pacers. We know they're big and they are tough. But we can't be worried about what they're doing to do us; we have to make sure they're worried about what we'll do to them. That's just the attitude you have to have if you're going to win anything this time of year. Especially if you're competing for a championship."
For now, Game 3 in Indianapolis is the most important. The Knicks, in hostile confines, will need to be prepared to face the obvious. When Vogel insists the Pacers "won't make the same mistakes again, because we can't," he needs to be taken seriously.
That means the Pacers will stay big and play big, meaning Hibbert and David West will re-emerge as the factors they were in Game 1. Paul George, their young All-Star known for defending Melo well, will have to make amends for his disappearing act in Game 2, despite his 20 points on the other end.
Local product Lance Stephenson, along with George Hill and D.J. Augustin, needs to produce. George needs to cut down on his turnovers. And the Pacers, simply put, need to get physical with the Knicks, acknowledging that styles always make fights.
"Their style is entirely different than ours," Vogel said. "We're big and physical. We were a top-10 offensively efficient team in the second half of the season, and we're great offensively when our guards play well. But we're a physical team, for sure. That's our identity. [The Knicks] are a perimeter-shooting team. That's their identity. I guess it comes down to who can impose what on whom."
Consider this good news for the Knicks.
That is, of course, if the Knicks are the sharpshooting bunch that earned the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. Not the fellas who showed up in Game 1 of this series.