As New York looks to close out the Boston Celtics in Game 5 Wednesday night, Indiana and Atlanta have drawn even in their best of seven series. With the respective winners set to face off in the second round, there is plenty of incentive for Knick fans to be rooting their hearts out for the Hawks.
While Knicks swept their season series with the Hawks 3-0 (one being the last game of the year, and a blatant tank job by Atlanta), they needed a late-season win to split with Indiana, 2-2.
In the interest of diving deeper into how the Bockers fared against each squad, I charted New York’s offensive and defensive efficiency, as well as their net ratings against both teams, comparing them to the Knicks’ season averages per NBA Stats:
Right off the bat, the difference in play is apparent. The stellar play that drove New York to the East’s second seed — and their third ranked offensive efficiency — was halted and suffocated by the Pacers’ league best defense. This is predominantly due to Indiana’s dedication to preventing the long ball, the Knicks’ primary source of offense. When adjusted for pace, the Pacers allowed the second fewest three-point attempts per-48 minutes in the NBA. In games against the Pacers, the Knicks attempted 26 threes per contest, a lower number compared to games played against two-thirds of the association.
Sure, New York’s defense is ahead of their season mark against Indy, but the Pacers run the 19th worst offense in the NBA. Not to discredit the Knicks defense, but Indiana’s not going to beat any team trying to play a barn-burner of a contest. Although the Knicks match up very well against Indiana defensively — Tyson Chandler can more than hold his own against Roy Hibbert, while Iman Shumpert’s savvy perimeter defense could help render All-Star Paul George’s game merely pedestrian — one matchup above all else scares me to death.
That would be Carmelo Anthony checking Indiana’s bulldozer power forward, David West. West’s patented physicality has the potential to drain Melo, why with his overwhelming power down low and consistent doling of punishment to the opposition. That could mean fatigue, hesitance, or — worse yet — bangs and bruises to the Knicks’ best player.
And don’t forget how the Knicks as a whole have succumbed more than once to their own frustration when playing opposite a very physical team, which lead to many an unforced error and infuriating technical fouls.
Meanwhile against the Hawks — a far less physical team — the Knicks have thrived on the offensive end. Carmelo Anthony in particular has beasted, as you can see here:
Atlanta has been a helpless victim to New York’s small ball approach, unable to match up or adapt to the point of competing. If they go small with their Horford-Smith frontcourt, Chandler should eradicate Horford’s offense, while Anthony should have a field day attacking Smith — a step too slow to keep up — on the offensive end. Hawks head coach Larry Drew’s stubbornness in sticking with “J-Smoove” on Melo led Anthony to a game-winning layup in one meeting and a forty point game in another against Atlanta. If the Hawks go big, say with Petro-Horford-Smith in their frontcourt, the Knicks should look to rain threes on a much slower unit who can’t rotate quick enough to open shooters.
Another key is pace. The Knicks have won games running down the shot clock and not forcing in transition, fancying a slower pace all season long. While Indiana shares a similar devotion to slogging basketball, the Hawks lean towards the middle of the pack in the league. Against Indy the Knicks would ball with the tempo they’re most comfortable with, but against the Hawks, New York might be able to better dictate how they want to play and use this control to their advantage.
With the Knicks one win away from advancing, the optimistic fan will tell you that neither Atlanta nor Indiana stands a chance. Still, one match up in particular would make for a much smoother road to the Conference Finals.