With a night to sleep on it, a few things I think I think heading into Game Two.
1. The defense was the biggest Game 1 culprit, part I. For all the huffing and puffing about NY’s offense, 95 points (inefficient though they were) really should be enough against the Pacers. The game should at least to be closer than three possessions. The Pacers shot 35% from three and corralled 28% of their misses, basically their season averages in both categories. Um… That’s not going to cut it gents. You have to take something away.
As I noted in my preview, New York is well-positioned to limit Indy on the offensive glass. Guards who clean up misses are a big part of that. The defensive rebound totals, respectively, for Shump, Felton, Prigioni, Smith and Kidd in Game 1? Try 3, 2, 0, 5, and 2. Add Chandler’s three measly boards, and that–frankly–is some bullshit. (To his credit, Melo brought his big boy britches with him to the defensive glass if nowhere else. He had 10 defensive boards.) We got out-rebounded by 14 but still got off five more shots than Indy. Had we gotten off 10 more shots at the same PPS we most likely win, without being any more efficient. Yeah, and if wishes were horses then beggars would ride. I get it. Still, 11 defensive boards for Stevenson is pretty ridiculous. I’m not happy with Chandler’s play, but Hibbert and West didn’t kill us on the boards. Stevenson did. The guards have to show up better on the glass.
2. The defense was the biggest Game 1 culprit, part II. As I’ve been kvetching about since yesterday, DJ Augustin had 16 points on four triples and a layup in just under 13 minutes (a preposterous 2.67 PPS). Augustin is, evidently, a Knicks season ticket holder because all of his shots were compliments of the house yesterday. He wasn’t knocking down the same looks Jason Terry got in the Boston series off the fast break and the faux break. Not a closely-guarded shot in the bunch for Mr. Augustin. Maybe he’ll hit those too, but we know he can hit the unguarded ones. So, let’s try guarding him next time shall we?
3. We have to turn Chandler into a useful offensive player. He cannot possibly play well against Hibbert in a wrestling match. For Chandler to be more effective we need to get he and Hibbert moving. Stashing him on the weak side and using Melo to set screens was a subtle yet awesome move against Boston that won’t work in this series. With Chandler on the weak side we are still in Hibbert’s recovery range. We need Hibbert another half-step away from the basket. Putting Chandler at the top to set screens for Felton should net us the extra half-step we need. I’d be stunned if Woody doesn’t make this adjustment. Though, speaking of being stunned by Woody…
4. For all the talk of Melo’s “trust” issues, Woody is the one driving me to drink. Raymond Felton is making things so much easier for people right now, particularly Melo and Chandler. Sigh… Additionally, Copeland is easily capable of the kind short scoring outburst we saw from Augustin. But Woody can’t find 5-8 minutes of run early in the game to see what he’s got?
5. I know an unfocused team when I see one. I think even Pacers fans would acknowledge that the first round was more cognitively and emotionally draining for New York. Indiana, to its credit, did a better job of re-focusing for Game 1. The Knicks were by contrast all over the place, unable to focus. Finding the focus to simply keep playing regardless of what just happened is a huge part of the NBA playoff grind. The non-stop carping at officials is a common symptom of a team unable to focus. Although the officials had a “generous” interpretation of defensive verticality, they were remarkably consistent. You can’t say you didn’t know what’s being called from one play to the next, or from one end of the floor to the other. So, this was a textbook example of players and coaches needing to adjust but lacking the emotional resources to do so. It was obvious that emotionally, the Knicks just couldn’t get to that place Sunday. It was classic displacement.
I’m less inclined than some fans and media types to go right to (lack of) maturity as an explanation. They tend to exaggerate the extent to which teams–even championship teams–maintain focus under all circumstances. Very few teams never waiver. The Spurs come to mind. Jordan’s Bulls do too. But they are exceptions, even among championship teams. For most, focus is a state variable rather than a trait variable. It varies by episode. So the key is less about never losing it, and more about getting it back. Miami, Dallas, L.A., and Detroit are not champions who you think of as having invariant focus. What mattered for them is the ability to re-set. To his credit, Woody has been really good at getting the focus back after the Knicks have lost it this season.