It started with a lineup change Kenyon Martin replacing Pablo Prigioni to match the Pacers brawn. More big bodies followed as Coach Mike Woodson deployed every possible combination Tuesday night in a desperate attempt to reverse the Knicks fortunes and save a playoff series.
Size ultimately did not matter. For the third time in four games the Pacers were simply better rolling to a 93 82 victory and pushing the Knicks to the edge of elimination in this Eastern Conference semifinal series.
Only N.B.A. eight teams have overcome a 3 1 deficit to win a series. The Knicks quest to become the ninth will start Thursday night at Madison Square Garden. If they survive they will have to win a Game 6 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse where they are 0 4 this season. The Pacers are undefeated at home in the playoffs.
I believe said Carmelo Anthony who had 24 points on another tough shooting night. I really believe that we can do something special here. I m very confident that we can do something special here.
To a man the Knicks expressed unwavering confidence but their body language said otherwise for 48 minutes. They hesitated. They passed up open shots. And they missed most of the open ones they took shooting 35.6 percent from the field.
Even a revival of their 3 point game which had been bottled up in Game 3 provided no comfort as the Knicks went 8 for 28 from beyond the arc. Their ball movement improved after some pointed criticism from Tyson Chandler but that was not enough either.
We had good looks Woodson said. We just couldn t knock them down. I thought our offensive flow wasn t bad tonight.
The Pacers led from wire to wire by as many as 18 points and by double digits for nearly the entire second half. The Knicks cut the deficit to 9 with 57.8 seconds left but that was as close as they got.
Anthony went 9 for 23 from the field and fouled out with two minutes left. J. R. Smith scored 19 points but was 7 for 22 from the field and 3 for 10 from behind the 3 point arc. Smith was still shaking off the effects of an illness but his shooting woes began two weeks ago after his suspension in the Boston Celtics series.
The burden is weighing on him.
My frustration level with myself is extremely high Smith said. I take the blame for this whole series. He made reference to the Boston series adding I haven t been playing myself. I haven t played my part. I ve been letting my teammates down. I ve been letting my coaches down. It doesn t feel good.
George Hill had a breakout game for the Pacers scoring 26 points while going 9 for 14 from the field outplaying Raymond Felton (14 points). Paul George added 18 points 14 rebounds and 7 assists. The Knicks managed to contain Roy Hibbert (6 points) but he still finished with 11 rebounds and 3 blocks.
Every member of the Pacers frontcourt had double figures in rebounds as Indiana again dominated the boards 54 36 despite the Knicks lineup changes.
Woodson used a big lineup for nearly the entire game returning Anthony to small forward while using Martin Chandler Amar e Stoudemire and Chris Copeland up front. Chandler finished with 10 rebounds and Anthony had 9.
But the Pacers still outscored the Knicks in the lane 36 26 and beat them on second chance points 19 16.
I thought that s what hurt us in crucial situations where we would make a slight run Woodson said. They d get a second chance opportunity and they capitalized on it. I ve got to get us blocking out and rebounding the basketball.
Iman Shumpert started and played 16 minutes despite a sore left knee that kept him out of practice for two days. He went 0 for 6 from the field and failed to score never quite looking like himself. Shumpert s availability was in doubt for much of the day but he was cleared to play after a magnetic resonance imaging examination showed no structural damage in the knee which he twisted twice in Game 3.
The Knicks had thrived all season with a small lineup and changing personality mid series seemed risky. The new starting lineup Anthony Felton Shumpert Chandler and Martin had never played a minute together. Chandler and Martin had not started together.
Woodson s entire rotation changed as a result. He used Stoudemire who just returned from a two month layoff to start the fourth quarter. Copeland who had been out of the rotation played 12 minutes in the second half. And Prigioni a starter for nearly two months played only 3 minutes 26 seconds. The Knicks had gone 20 6 with him as a starter.
It can be difficult Chandler said of the changes because of the continuity of the offense and movement.
Nothing worked. The Knicks trailed by 8 points in the first quarter by 14 at halftime and never made a run. In two games in Indiana the Knicks held the lead for just 1 16.
The infusion the Knicks really need is not size but scoring. Their offense has been unraveling since the postseason began and has shown only rare signs of life against the Pacers relentless pressure.
They have a defensive game plan and they run it excellent Chandler said. They play hard. They play hard every possession. He added They beat us.
On the greaseboard in the visiting locker room someone had scrawled a simple two sentence rallying cry Stay the course. Win one change everything.
I can t lose hope Woodson said.