Chris Copeland drives on Roy Hibbert. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBA/Getty Images)
The fears facing New York Knicks fans heading into the Eastern Conference semifinals focused on the Indiana Pacers' defense. In general, the concern was whether a best-in-the-league unit even stingier than the Boston Celtics group that gave the Knicks' O fits in Round 1 would prove too daunting a task. More specifically, the worries centered on whether a younger, faster, quicker and longer-limbed squad than Boston — featuring wing defenders capable of shutting off perimeter penetration one-on-one, a 7-foot-2 eraser capable of protecting the rim without requiring double teams and a system geared toward running opponents off the 3-point line — would eliminate the kind of open long-range looks born of dribble penetration and ball movement that made New York so dangerous during the regular season.
Through three games, those fears seem well-founded. New York's averaging just 90.3 points per game in the Eastern Conference semifinals, shooting 43.2 percent from the floor and 33.3 percent from 3-point range in the series, and is coming off a Game 3 suffocation that saw them set season lows in 3-point makes and attempts. The Knicks are averaging 100.9 points per 100 possessions against the Pacers, which represents a massive drop-off from their season-long efficiency (108.6-per-100, third-best in the NBA) and is heavily inflated by the Knicks' late-Game-2 run. New York averaged less than one point per possession in their Game 1 loss and scored at a heinous 82.6-per-100 clip in Game 3, which is a level of ineptitude miles beyond what even the absolute worst NBA offenses typically muster.
It's tempting to suggest that this is a matter of leading scorers Carmelo Anthony (29 for 70, 41.4 percent) and J.R. Smith (11 for 42 in the series, 26.2 percent) just being embroiled in a slump from which they need to shake loose. The reality, though, is that Indiana defends the scoring pair roughly this well — both Anthony and Smith shot less 38 percent against the Pacers this season — and that the poor 100.9-per-100 efficiency mark (which would have tied the Knicks with the Milwaukee Bucks and Detroit Pistons for the league's ninth-worst offense this year) is actually a stark improvement over New York's regular-season numbers against Indiana (91.8-per-100, their lowest mark against any opponent this season). This is not a cold snap or a fluke; this is what happens when an excellent defense knows how you're going to attack them, and you continue to attack them that way.
With that in mind, Game 4 might be a good time for Knicks coach Mike Woodson to consider attacking the Pacers a different way — by counteracting Indiana's grinding size by going smaller earlier and trying to kickstart a flagging offense by inserting little-used rookie Chris Copeland, whom Woodson has said could see more minutes in Indiana on Tuesday. That's a good idea.
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