Game Four of the Knicks' Eastern Conference Semifinal matchup looked depressingly like Game Three: the Pacers dominated the Knicks all game long, pushing them around on the boards and building a single digit first half lead before taking complete control of the game in the second half. The Knicks made a push or two but weren't able to get closer than an eight point differential early in the fourth quarter that quickly slid back into the teens. And so just as in Game Three, it was an eleven point loss for the Knicks, this time 93-82. They'll have to win three straight to move on to the next round.
Carmelo Anthony had a good game, scoring 24 points in the first three quarters before crumbling to fatigue in a scoreless fourth before fouling out with two minutes left. He shot 9-23 for the game. He got some help from Raymond Felton, who started hot and finished with fourteen points on 6-17 shooting, adding six assists. Other than that, it was another terrible game for the Knicks supporting cast. JR Smith was a mess again, shooting 7-22 for 19, which was actually worse than it sounded as he shot 1-8 in the first half. Tyson Chandler had a decent game with twelve points and ten boards but he didn't control the paint on either end, just as he hasn't all playoffs. All told, the Knicks shot just 36% from the field and 28.6% from three and didn't hold the lead for a single second of the game.
Mike Woodson is not going to have a fun time explaining his decisionmaking during this series, especially with regard to tonight. First, he opted to start Kenyon Martin in place of Pablo Prigioni in, presumably, an effort to give the Knicks more rebounding. He did that despite Iman Shumpert suffering through a knee bruise and swelling in his surgically repaired left knee that was significant enough that the Knicks flew his surgeon to Indiana to make sure he was OK. So Woodson opted for the injured guy (Shump) and the guy who can't shoot (Martin) over Prigioni, who coming into the game was +33 in nine playoff games this season, a key part of the Knick ball movement and played stellar defense all season long. Woodson then compounded his mistake by playing Jason Kidd over Prigioni off the bench.
Here's how all that worked out: five rebounds for Martin in 29 minutes, an 0-6 donut for Shumpert in sixteen minutes where he looked to be at less than full strength and an eighth consecutive scoreless game for Jason Kidd, who played sixteen minutes to Prigioni's 3:26. Oh, and the Knicks got outrebounded again, this time 54-36, as they struggled with the Pacers' physicality down low.
It's hard to find definitive proof to show that Woodson's erred by keeping Chris Copeland and Steve Novak chained to the bench, even though the Knicks could have used their shooting to space the floor. Both played in the second half tonight and had little impact. But by any metric available the Knicks are better on both ends with Prigioni on the floor. Coming off consecutive games where they struggled to score, Woodson put an essential piece of their offense on the bench and didn't even bother to give him the minutes of a player who just doesn't appear capable of playing in the NBA anymore (that's you Jason Kidd, sorry). He did this coming off two games where the Knicks held the Pacers to less than 85 points, defensive performances that should have been sufficient to propel the Knicks to victory. He traded offense for defense (arguably) in a situation where the Knicks weren't struggling on defense.
Mike Woodson had an excellent regular season but in the playoffs he's increasingly looking like the ineffective coach he was with the Hawks. The Knicks are going to need to push this series to seven games if Woodson doesn't want to spend the rest of his spring listening to rumors about a certain former Knick who just turned down the Nets. If the Knicks lose he may have to no matter what. This town is getting very impatient.
Now that that's out of the way, it's important to note that the Pacers played another very strong game, taking advantage of the Knicks double-teaming down low to get open looks for Lance Stephenson and George Hill. Stephenson had thirteen points and seven boards, including a couple of big second half threes that quieted Knick rallies. Hill had his best game of the playoffs, scoring 26 on 9-14 shooting. And rubber man Paul George had another strong all around game, contributing eighteen points, fourteen boards and seven assists (though he was a JR Smith-like 1-9 from three). West and Hibbert combined for nineteen rebounds, nine of which were offensive, which gave the Pacers second chances again and again, Kenyon Martin's presence be damned.
The Knicks seem to have run into a team that has their number. Without any help, the rangy George makes Melo work as hard as anyone in the league and Hibbert can muzzle the pick-and-roll and keep Tyson Chandler off the offensive boards. The Pacers long guards recover well, interfere with passing lanes and nag Melo in the post with their active hands. On top of all that, the Pacers seem to be peaking at the right time; big shots are hardly Lance Stephenson's forte. Tonight they were. That's the kind of thing that happens when a team is on a roll.
Things look pretty grim for the Knicks. They'll see if they can stay alive in a true do-or-die game Thursday night back at the Garden.