NEW YORK -- The Knicks are still figuring things out. That, more than anything, shined through Thursday night. Knicks coach Mike Woodson made another batch of changes in an attempt to crack the Pacers' stifling defense in Game 5, and his decision-making process was far from scientific.
"When you get in a series, there's nothing tricky or anything like that," said Woodson. "We try to change up some of our sets to see if they'll work."
Some of his adjustments helped, and some of them didn't. But when the final buzzer sounded, Woodson was left smiling. His Knicks were still alive. They outlasted the Pacers 85-75 to cut their deficit to 3-2 and force a Game 6 in Indiana on Saturday.
For the first time since the waning moments of Game 2, when the Knicks rode a 30-2 fourth-quarter run to a 26-point rout, New York walked off the floor with answers -- and a palpable sense of hope. Coming off two games packed with dysfunction, frustration and alleged feuding, the Knicks began to find themselves. And after getting throttled in Games 3 and 4, Carmelo Anthony and his supporting cast proved they do have a little fight left, after all.
"I think this probably was the best game we played throughout this whole series," said Anthony. "... We had to will ourselves to go out there and win, and we did that."
'Melo led the charge. He went 12 of 28 from the field for 28 points and set the tone right from the outset. He knocked down a jumper from 12 feet to open the scoring, then he used a behind-the-back pull-up to create separation for an open three less than 30 seconds later. He missed a number of short-range attempts around the basket, but his attacking mindset proved significant; by getting to the rim, he helped force both Paul George and Roy Hibbert into foul trouble.
For the first time since last week, Anthony also received a little help. J.R. Smith started to awake from his postseason slumber, contributing 13 points, and Chris Copeland provided a sorely needed spark off the bench. The rookie out of Colorado went 4 of 6 for 13 points, invigorating the Knicks' offense after Hibbert took a seat upon picking up his fifth foul early in the third quarter.
During that stretch, Woodson elected to go small, relying on the guard-heavy, perimeter-focused approach that has buoyed the Knicks all season. Copeland, Iman Shumpert and Pablo Prigioni -- who combined for a mere 31 minutes in Game 4 -- racked up 64 minutes in Game 5. New York re-established its identity. And as it turns out, a team that went 54-28 from November through April can still be pretty good.
"I won't call it a mismatch but I can say I think I can help us spreading the floor and bringing [Indiana's bigs] away from the basket," said Copeland. "I'm just trying to make spacing better by being out there on the floor, getting 'Melo his opportunities down there on the block."
Raymond Felton also came on strong in the second half, netting 10 of his 12 points after the break to help New York close the door. But that may have been a byproduct of George Hill's absence, as the Pacers' starting point guard was ruled out before the game with a concussion. Hill wasn't likely to put up 26 points again as he did in Game 4, but his freakishly long 6-foot-9 wingspan allows him to put incredible pressure on opposing guards around the perimeter. Matched up against the 6-foot D.J. Augustin, Felton was able to drive and kick, helping New York spread the floor to facilitate much of its offensive success.
At his postgame press conference, Pacers coach Frank Vogel tried to downplay the impact of Hill injury's on the complexion of the series, though the action on the court dictated otherwise.
"I don't think it has anything to do with it," said Vogel. "I think we got plenty to beat the Knicks with or without George Hill, and the guys in uniform gotta play better."
They do -- but so do the Knicks. Despite the result, New York looked dangerously sloppy at times. Jason Kidd continued his scoreless streak after missing a one-foot layup nine minutes into the first quarter. Felton and Shumpert each failed to connect on several wide-open looks from three, and Tyson Chandler continued his increasingly worrisome disappearing act. The All-Defensive First Team selection inexplicably fouled Lance Stephenson at midcourt in the closing moments of the first half, picked up a costly fourth foul with 9:52 remaining in the third and finished with an entirely forgettable final line: 27 minutes, two points and five fouls.
Yes, it was ugly. And yes, despite appearing in command from the opening tip, the Knicks allowed the Pacers to creep within four points as late as midway through the fourth. But they got the win. And after looking lifeless while being pushed to the brink, the Knicks earned a chance to play another day.
The Knicks are still trying to figure things out. But Thursday, they were satisfied with survival -- and the potential for something more.
"The bottom line is we won," said Woodson. "We got an opportunity to go to Indiana and try to steal the series back in our favor."