NEW YORK -- They were coming off a three-game road trip, their first loss of the season and faced an early game Sunday, and the New York Knicks found themselves struggling to score in the first half.
No matter. These Knicks have quickly prided themselves on forming a brick wall on defense, from their defensive-minded coach Mike Woodson, all the way to their notoriously offensively obsessed star, Carmelo Anthony.
So it was once again the defense that sparked the Knicks in their 88-76 win over the Indiana Pacers at Madison Square Garden.
The Knicks limited the poor-shooting Pacers to just 30 points in the first half on 26.3 percent shooting from the field. Struggling to score without injured top scorer Danny Granger recently, the Pacers got 20 points from Paul George, 14 from David West and little else offensively.
Afterwards, most of the Knicks (7-1) talked proudly of creating what has become a stifling defense, with center Rasheed Wallace saying that when "everyone buys in, it will be just hellacious."
But the most surprising and, likely, important buyer seems to have already been more than sold. Anthony not only scored 26 points to again lead the offense, but had nine rebounds and afterwards acknowledged he had made a concerted effort to up his all-around game this season.
"I think just my focus now and the team we have," Anthony said when asked why his defense had improved this year. "Everybody knows I can score ... that's a no-brainer. For me to go out and say I can lead my team, play defense ...
"... That was my motivation last season, to approach this season as a new beginning."
It's resulted in making Anthony "absolutely, absolutely, by far" a better, more complete player than the Knicks initially envisioned getting, he said.
"(For) the Knicks organization to put a Knicks team around me like they did, I have to lead by example," Anthony said.
After losing their first game of the season Friday at the Memphis Grizzlies, the Knicks limited Indiana to 38.6 percent shooting from the field and benefitted from 19 Pacers turnovers to get back on the winning track. The Knicks also outrebounded a team for the first time this season, 48-47.
"We weren't tough enough with the basketball," Pacers coach Frank Vogel said, after his team fell to 4-7. "They are a ball-stripping team and we didn't pay enough attention to that."
J.R. Smith added 13 points for the Knicks while Raymond Felton had 11 points and eight assists.
Up 12 entering the fourth quarter, the Knicks went on an 11-4 run to start the fourth, taking a 79-60 lead. They ran away with the game from there.
Anthony led the Knicks with 16 points in the first half as New York's defense overcame some poor shooting to take a 41-30 halftime lead.
The Pacers shot just 26.3 percent from the field in the first half (10 of 38), and a woeful 20 percent in the second quarter.
"I thought we were good throughout the whole game defensively," Woodson said. "There's gonna be nights you struggle offensively."
Knicks point guard Jason Kidd left the game with 8:48 left in the first quarter with a cut to his head, after Lance Stephenson fouled him on a 3-point attempt. Kidd, sporting a head band around his shaved head around the cut, sank the three free throws before exiting to get stitches on the cut. He returned early in the second quarter with a bandage, and the head band still in place.
The unique look for the Knicks' veteran point guard resulted in his teammate Anthony looking to play defense in a different way.
"It's not a good look," Anthony said, to laughter. "Today he had to do what he had to do, but we're not gonna allow that."
Notes: After logging a pair of "did-not-plays," Knicks center Marcus Camby played nearly 13 minutes, grabbing four rebounds. Woodson said before the game Camby's inactivity had not been due to his left calf injury, but because he was focused on the team and was mixing and matching. ... Former Knicks and current Pacers president Donnie Walsh said he had no regrets about his time in New York and was glad to see the team making progress. He also said he thought former Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni would "do great" with the Lakers and that Walsh had "put Mike in a very tough position (in New York). We had to go through the years of losing ... well, now he's in a different situation. Now he's got true talent and I expect him to do great, to be honest with you." ... Pacers center Roy Hibbert limped off the court with 2:03 left in the half, but returned in the third quarter.