Indiana tightens the screws defensively once again, takes a 3-1 series lead over New York

INDIANAPOLIS – The Knicks attempted to find another gear against the Indiana Pacers’ all-world defense on Tuesday, but the engine repeatedly failed to even turn over for New York. Indiana kept up its stifling defense and opportunistic offense in the team’s 93-82 win in Game 4, sending the series back to New York with the once-favored Knicks down 3-1, just one loss away from the end of the team’s up and down season.

The Pacers managed to pull out the home victory by moving up and down the court more adeptly and confidently than before, as Indiana was able to establish a speedier attack early that sustained throughout the game due to New York’s miserable shooting. Just 10 fast break points for the Pacers in its win, but because the team was able to move into its offense off of all those long rebounds following New York misses, coach Frank Vogel’s crew kept the Knicks at arm’s length all night.

To New York’s credit, the team’s initial spacing looked much better than it did during losses in Games 1 and 3. Carmelo Anthony attempted to initiate more screen and roll basketball, a response to two weeks’ worth of criticism that came to a head when Knicks center Tyson Chandler demanded his team entertain the idea of actually moving the ball following the Game 3 loss. The Knicks tried, the team moved into its once-stagnant offense earlier in possessions and attempted to push during their own transition forays, but the Pacers did brilliant work in getting in the way of calm offensive waters for New York. The Knicks attempted just two fast break shots, and Indiana’s length once again led to a pitiful shooting night for the visitors.

New York switched out the struggling Pablo Prigioni to start the game, moving Anthony to small forward and inserting Kenyon Martin into the starting lineup, but none of these switches did anything for a Knick team that finished the night with a 35.6 shooting mark – a percentage that topped their Game 3 shooting number by less than half of a percentage point.

Even Raymond Felton’s relatively hot start only allowed for 14 points on 16 shots in the loss, while Anthony once again struggled to free the clutches of Pacers swingman Paul George. Anthony played with effort and rebounded better (nine caroms) in the loss, but he needed 23 shots to score his 24 points.

Tyson Chandler came through with a determined, gutty effort (the center still doesn’t look like the all-around demon that did so well for the Knicks last season, and the Knicks were reduced to needlessly double-teaming Roy Hibbert in the first half), but his double-double output (12 points and 10 rebounds, three blocks) wasn’t enough.

On the other end, the Knicks had no answer for a confident, springy Pacers guard in George Hill; a player that may have turned in his best game as a Pacer, according to Indiana head coach Frank Vogel.

The Indianapolis native finished off several broken or delayed plays on his way toward 26 points on only 14 shots. With efficient shots at a premium in yet another clutch-and-grab, defensive battle, the Pacers point guard was able to find his way to the ball with ease after giving it up to start the possession, usually bailing his teammates out (Paul George and Roy Hibbert combined to miss 19 of 27 shots) with instinctual drives and finishes at the rim.

Hill was usually allowed to change the course of action in the contest because the Pacers were so active, yet again, on the offensive glass. The team pulled in 16 offensive rebounds just two nights after grabbing 18 in Indiana’s Game 3 conquest, and though the Knicks can’t expect to win when giving up totals like that, keeping a bead on Indiana’s long rebounds after perimeter misses is easier said than done. New York’s big lineup was little help: Anthony managed to pull in nine rebounds during his spell, but Kenyon Martin (always a poor rebounder) grabbed just five in nearly 29 minutes, and the team’s guards were no help.

Frustrated by the second half, the Knicks turned to fouling, sending Indiana to the line 19 times over the last two quarters, mostly on reactions and reach-ins that just did not have to happen. This helped the Pacers hold on despite a second half that saw the team shoot 36 percent, an offensive malaise that was the reason that Indiana was unable to turn this game into a blowout. Indiana won by “just” 11, but the outcome in this one was never in doubt.

It’s that Pacer offense, and not the team’s fabulous defense, that could bring this series back to Indiana. The Knicks will enter Game 5 in New York full of nagging questions – the team’s depth has abandoned them, the defensive rotations leave plenty to be desired, J.R. Smith has fallen down an offensive well (Smith has made just 27 of his last 91 shots, shooting 29 percent over his last six games) – but the Pacers will still be hard-pressed to put up 93 points again. Indiana has carried over its league-best defense into the postseason, but you have to worry about a team that was given so many chances in that win, yet failed to fully capitalize.

Maybe they won’t need to. Maybe Indiana’s defense, coupled with New York’s continued frustration, could be enough to end this series in five games. One wouldn’t think a veteran team like the Knicks would go out in such a blaze of incompetency, but with Indiana defending the way it does, will the Knicks have any choice?

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