By Rob Mahoney
This one was ugly. The Pacers and Knicks typically trade blows in competitive, low-scoring games, but on Wednesday New York refused to hold up its end of the bargain. Indiana, on the other hand, showed up and showed out. The Pacers built a double-digit lead in the first quarter and increased their advantage to 30 by halftime. There would be no silver lining for the Knicks, who wound up as roadkill in the Pacers' 125-91 blowout.
Indiana, which piled up 44 second-quarter points and shot 53.2 percent from the field overall, closed within a half-game of the Knicks for second place in the Eastern Conference. New York, which shot 33.7 percent, lost its third consecutive game.
• The Pacers' aren't known for their explosiveness, but I'd argue this type of barrage isn't entirely anachronistic. That's an odd thing to say about the league's 25th-ranked offense, but Indiana has been on a tear of late, empowered in part by Paul George's rise. In the previous 20 games, that normally dismal offense has performed at roughly league-average levels -- hardly earth-shaking, but impressive in context. Better yet: Over the last 10, the Pacers have been the eighth-best offensive team -- good for 107.7 points per 100 possessions. None of that could provide the precedent necessary to expect this kind of performance, but it at least sets the stage that would make a dominant offensive showing conceivable for a team that has otherwise struggled to score.
On Wednesday night, Indiana's commitment to attacking New York in transition boosted the offense. Lance Stephenson, George Hill and George (who scored 27 points on 11-of-19 shooting) all pushed the ball up-court as quickly as possible while the Knicks struggled to match up, leaving wide-open driving lanes and surrendering situational advantages (at times as glaring as 4-on-1) in the open court. Some of that is the price of operating with a slower backcourt, but offensive impotence (thus resulting in live-ball turnovers and long rebounds) and a lack of effort only exacerbated New York's problems. I'm understanding of those who will blame the Knicks' lack of energy on some post-All-Star paralysis, because frankly, I'm not sure how else a team could fold so quickly (74-44 by halftime) and so shamelessly.
• All of that said, let's not pin this final verdict on one end of the court when the Pacers so thoroughly dominated in every phase of the game. Indiana detonated Mike Woodson's playbook and subverted a lot of the Knicks' one-on-one action, throwing one of the best offensive teams in the league into a dizzying tailspin. By game's end, New York's effective field goal percentage (a comprehensive shooting mark that carries extra weight for three-pointers) sank to 36.6 -- nearly 15 points worse than the Knicks' season average.
Carmelo Anthony (15 points, 7-of-21 shooting) was stunted, first by George's pesky on-ball defense and then by the Pacers' knowing help. Amar'e Stoudemire (1-of-5) was a non-factor, reduced to an afterthought by the Knicks' complete lack of offensive momentum. Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd were unable to stabilize an offense that was consistently on tilt. New York's helplessness was palpable.
• The Knicks tend to get cranky when things aren't going their way, and the growing margin coupled with the Pacers' physical style made things a bit chippier than they likely should have been. Part of the problem was that both teams started the game working through the post; George tried to fight off Anthony and Tyson Chandler attempted to nudge Roy Hibbert off the block, all while Stephenson and David West got into the act by bodying up their respective defenders. That physicality carried over into New York's mounting frustration and Indiana's aggressive approach, bringing a quick blowout to an early boil. Players on both teams were trading extracurricular elbows and pushes by the second quarter, and four technical fouls were levied between a halftime confrontation and unrelated flares in the tempers of various players. Things could have escalated further, but luckily both coaches pulled their starters at the outset of the fourth quarter and let clearer heads wrap up the formality of the final period.