We are running back our Game 5 preview but in a FANCY 2.0 version for Game 6. Once again, the New York Knicks just need to get one…one road “upset” that we are starting to feel alarmingly optimistic about occurring. If that occurs, all of the pressure shifts squarely back to the young Indiana Pacers for Game 7 at Madison Square Garden. Why should Knicks fans feel hopeful about there being such a game on Monday night and what are the keys to getting there?
The absence of Indiana starting point guard George Hill is likely and is an enormously important factor. It is also worth noting that starting shooting guard Lance Stephenson is a little banged up with an ankle injury sustained late in Game 5. Indiana is thin in the backcourt and thin in general off the bench. It is hard to see them scoring much more than 80 points, if they even crack that number at all without Hill.
Putting their backcourt injuries aside, the Knicks STILL haven’t had a big offensive game this series, namely Carmelo Anthony and JR Smith. There is a relatively simplistic fact in this series: if the Knicks can get a big night from Anthony and/or Smith, notably with them combining for 40% from the field…they are going to win, as pointed out by Moke Hamilton in our roundtable yesterday.
JR seems to be on the right track but the focus is always going to be on Anthony. Aren’t we due for one of “those” games from ‘Melo? If he can gut out a vintage 32-36 point performance in a relatively efficient manner, we are going back for Game 7 in Madison Square Garden. He must continuously attack Roy Hibbert by driving to the basket, the best defense for Hibbert is getting him on the bench with foul trouble.
It sounds like Mike Woodson is going to do the sensible thing with his line-ups, which is of course stay with Pablo Prigioni as a starter and give him extended minutes at the expense of Jason Kidd, along with play Chris Copeland off the bench instead of Amare Stoudemire. There is no reason Copeland and Prigioni shouldn’t be playing 20-25 minutes each tonight. If Pablo does Pablo things and Copeland can crack double digits again, the Knicks will have enough support for their lead scorers.
Raymond Felton had a strong second half in Game 5, after playing too tentatively in the first half. He needs to attack the paint from the opening whistle and thoroughly win the point guard match-up against DJ Augustin, who is overextended as a starter. He lacks the defensive presence of Hill and struggles to facilitate the offense in the same way. Stephenson is a borderline disaster when he is forced to handle the ball too much and Paul George’s game becomes somewhat limited offensively if he is forced to continuously bring the ball up.
It is beyond critical for the Knicks to start fast tonight. A quick lead will get the Pacers crowd out of the game and tighten up a young Pacers team that much more. They will be staring at going from a 3-1 lead to being forced to head back on the road for a Game 7, potentially without their starting point guard. Again this a young team, who has been sloppy with the basketball and at the free throw line. If the Knicks can get them flustered early, they will be in good shape.
The Knicks dug themselves into this hole by playing substandard basketball all series. They played far from their best game in Game 5 but gutted out a win. A strong effort will be needed tonight to extend their season, can they rise to the challenge in hostile environment?