Less than 48 hours after a blowout in Boston turned into a struggle, the Knicks dropped this afternoon's clash with the Pacers 102-95. The start to the game was promising as the Knicks moved the ball, ran their pick-and-roll offense and finished the first quarter on a 9-0 run to take a 27-22 lead into the second against the league's best defense. But the next three quarters weren't much different than the last three games against Boston.

Carmelo Anthony struggled with his jumper and sat with foul trouble, JR Smith was indecisive with the ball and the Knicks let the Pacers and center Roy Hibbert dominate the paint and dictate the game's rhythm. As usual lately, Raymond Felton was the Knicks' lone bright spot offensively, where he was 8-12 for eighteen points.

Things didn't get out of hand until the third quarter, where the Knicks were down six with 7:48 to go when Carmelo left the game after committing his fourth foul unnecessarily overreaching for a Paul George jump shot. With no choice but to put him on the bench, Mike Woodson watched the Pacers pull away and when Melo returned to start the fourth the Knicks were down 81-65. Anthony, Smith and the Knicks had a strong fourth but the Pacers' defense, led by Hibbert who had five blocks, was just too good for the Knicks to make up the difference.

The story in this one will be the Knicks' offense. Melo had his fourth consecutive poor shooting game and played with some kind of protection on his left shoulder after injuring it against Boston. He was just 10-28 on his way to 27 points and was 1-4 from three, where he's made just four of his last 28. JR Smith struggled for the third time in as many games since returning from his suspension for elbowing Jason Terry, shooting 4-15 for seventeen. Last but not least (and there's plenty in between), Jason Kidd played seventeen ineffective minutes. He hasn't scored in four games despite having played over a hundred minutes. On the bright side, Anthony and Smith had strong fourth quarters, combining for 26 points as the Knicks started figuring out how to attack the middle despite Hibbert's presence.

Another part of the story will be the officiating, about which the Knicks rightfully complained throughout the game. Quite a few blows to Anthony's head went unpenalized while touch foul calls went the other way. But while offense and officiating will be the topics on WFAN tonight, it's defense where the Knicks have the most room to improve.

The Pacers and their impressive young coach Frank Vogel defend, rebound and grit their way through games on the offensive end. The Knicks are capable of playing better defense against the league's twentieth best offense, good enough that the 95 points they scored against the league's top defense this afternoon will be enough to win. The Pacers might make their offense look bad every game this series, but the Knicks can still win if they defend better.

They have to figure out how to rebound better (they were -14 on the glass) and stop Hibbert, who had fourteen points, eight boards and four assists and dominated Tyson Chandler. Doing a better job against Brooklyn's own Lance Stephenson (a tough eleven points and thirteen boards), David West (twenty power points on 8-15 shooting) and DJ Augustin (sixteen shocking points in thirteen minutes) won't hurt their chances to move on to the Eastern Conference Finals either. To do that they have to slow the Pacers in semi-transition, rotate as well as they did in the first few games of the Boston series and maintain their focus no matter how bad their offense looks, something they certainly did not do this afternoon.

Losing game one at home hurts, but the Knicks have the ability to play better, especially on the defensive end. Game two is Tuesday night, yet another "biggest game of the season" for the Knicks. They have to win if they want to have another.