It's been a tough series for the Knicks. They've fallen behind 3-2, having been manhandled by the Pacers' front line, punished by Paul George's athleticism and burned by Lance Stephenson and George Hill from the outside. They lost Game One at home 102-95 and didn't seem to have any answers for the Pacers in Game Four (93-82), where going away from their small-ball ethos led to disaster. But despite all that, the Knicks won Game Five (95-85) to keep their season from ending. A win tonight will force the series back to New York and what is sure to be a raucous Garden for Game Seven, a game the Knicks will almost certainly be favored to win. But that's only if they can win tonight. So what do the Knicks need to do to get there?
1. Get Roy Hibbert In Foul Trouble The Knicks have been manhandled by Hibbert inside on both ends of the court this series. After a poor performance in the playoffs last season turned him into a punchline, Hibbert's offensive rebounding, shot blocking and pick-and-roll nullification have Big Roy laughing now.
Hibbert's averaging 14.7 points and 10.3 boards, 5.7 of which have been offensive, in the Pacers' three wins in the series. In their two losses, he's averaging just 7.5 points and his rebounding numbers are down slightly but significantly, to 9.5 total and 4.5 on the offensive end. Foul trouble limited Hibbert to just 31 minutes in Game Five as he sat for long stretches of both halves and was forced to play the last 5:24 of the game with five fouls. Hibbert's lack of rhythm and playing time resulted in a nine point, seven board performance. Hibbert's decline in production meant that the Pacers ever-so-slightly outrebounded the Knicks 43-40, way off the 10.5 rebound advantage the Pacers averaged in the first four games.
2. Get A 36% Shooting Performance From JR Smith The Knicks haven't lost a playoff game when "Desert Thirsty" shoots 36% or better. After suffering through whatever was going on after he elbowed Jason Terry and got suspended in the Boston series, Smith's looked more and more like himself lately. After a terrible 1-8 shooting first half in Game Four he was 6-14 in the second half. After cleansing himself by taking the blame for the 3-1 series deficit, Smith had a solid Game Five, where was 4-11 for thirteen points as he played with a notable increase in energy, adding six boards.
The Knicks are likely to go as JR does tonight.
3. Limit Jason Kidd And Amar'e Stoudemire's Minutes Look, Kidd's a legend, a first ballot hall of famer who's made some of the most beautiful plays in NBA history. But he's just not able to play at this level, at least right now. He hasn't scored since April 23rd and Lance Stephenson has looked at him like chum all season long (that might actually be a good thing). Kidd's got to play a few minutes to spell Prigioni or Felton so the Knicks can't afford to bench him. Still, the five minutes he played in Game Five is fine, the sixteen he played in the Knicks' Game Four lost is way too many, especially since it pushed Prigs to the bench for all but a few minutes.
As for Stoudemire, an elimination game is just not the time to be working a guy back into the rotation. He played 6:34 in Game Five and didn't have any impact on the game. If Mike Woodson can't bring himself to keep Stoudemire on the bench completely, he shouldn't be playing any more than he did in Game Five.
Those extra minutes should continue to go to forward Chris Copeland, who repaid Mike Woodson for finally giving him some burn with thirteen huge points in nineteen minutes on 4-6 shooting, including some big, timely threes.
4. Don't Double Team. Also, Double Team In Game Four, the Knicks doubled the Pacers' big men in the post early and often, allowing West and Hibbert to get comfortable with what the Knicks were doing. Their willingness and ability to move the ball led to a ton of open looks for George Hill, who had 26 points, and some shockingly big makes from Stephenson. In Game Five, the Knicks played Hibbert and West straight up, doubling only occasionally. Doubling down low is something the Knicks should do. Tyson Chandler, Kenyon Martin and Carmelo Anthony can't contain Hibbert and West on their own. But that doubling can't be predictable. It's got to be sporadic so that the Pacers' intelligent big men can't quite figure out how to adjust to it. That's what the Knicks did in Game Five and what they should do tonight.
5. Win The First Quarter The Knicks are headed into a hostile environment on the road.
Market Square Arena Conseco Fieldhouse Bankers Life Fieldhouse isn't an easy place to play and the fans there have never had a problem using their anti-urban vitriol as fuel for Knicks hatred (the distribution of "blue collar"-sloganed t-shirts and tolerance of Tyler Hansbrough being just the latest examples. Spike Lee can share some others). It's Saturday night and that crowd is going to be loud and ornery. Scoring upwards of twenty points and building a lead will put the crowd - and the Pacers - on their heels.
6. Get On Carmelo Anthony's Back Elimination games are why teams give up valuable assets and pay big money to players like Carmelo Anthony. Going against the league's top defense and a stellar defender in Paul George, Anthony hasn't shot particularly well in the series (41%) and his scoring average is slightly down from where it was during the regular season (26.4 per). But he made some big shots in the fourth quarter of Game Five when the Pacers pushed the Knick lead all the way down to four points and he's shown his usual willingness to take big shots, consequences be damned. Observers can call the Knicks a small-ball team or a pick-and-roll team or any kind of team they want. But they're a "we've got a guy who doesn't shy away from the moment team" just like the Lakers, Thunder, Celtics and Heat (yes, the Heat) are, thanks to Kobe, Durant, Pierce and LeBron. The Pacers don't have that. In the closing minutes of this game, the Knicks will need Carmelo Anthony to be himself.
There are lots of other keys to this game. The Knicks need a strong performance from Raymond Felton, who had a solid Game Five. They need to take advantage of the Pacers' turnover-laden offensive dry spells like they did in Game Two, which will be longer and more frequent if George Hill isn't able to recover from his concussion in time. They need Tyson Chandler to play with energy. There's more. But if they do the six things identified above, they'll live to fight another day and bring this thing back to MSG.