Five takeaways from the Pacers’ Game 1 win in New York
Consider this: “You take out the Xs and Os of the game, they flat out played harder than we did today. That was the key to their victory. They outplayed and outworked us. There is nothing else that needs to be said about that.” – Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony
If you’re in Pacers coach Frank Vogel’s shoes, is there any better compliment? An opponent admitting that they were both outplayed and outworked?
In one of just a handful of national TV appearances and their first time this season on ABC, the Pacers showed the country what this team is about. “Togetherness” is the term they have repeated all season. Together, they gritted out an impressive 102-95 win in New York’s Madison Square Garden to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
And they did it less than 48 hours removed from their Game 6 win in Atlanta to advance to the second round. For the players, that meant staying off their feet. As for coach Vogel, he watched film on the flight from Atlanta to New York, when he woke up and for most of Saturday.
Below are my observations from Game 1:
1) For a such a young team, the Pacers handled the pressure of Madison Square Garden very well. There were some nerves and adrenaline, as Vogel put it postgame, but after that it didn’t seem it mattered where they were playing. Road wins are always hard to come by. After finally ending its 13-game losing streak in Atlanta, Indiana ended a 3-game slide in New York. There’s no better time to do it than the playoffs.
“I love this building,” said Lance Stephenson, who grew up and played ball at nearby Lincoln High School. “I love playing here. Out of all of the arenas…there is something about these lights I like and it gets me energized.”
2) Lance Stephenson has added rebounding to his game. A guy who averaged almost four rebounds per game has pulled in 12, 11, and a career-high 13 rebounds in his last three games. The team loves when he gets the ball and goes and recently the coaches sat down with him and talked about not leaking out. He’s been aggressive, locked in and under control.
His teammates have taken notice as well. “He had a huge homecoming,” Paul George said. “Lance, the past three games, has been one of our best players. When he’s playing at that level, we’re a tough team and we feed off that energy.”
3) Roy Hibbert is owning the paint. In doing so, his teammates have had less pressure and know he’s there as reinforcement. The defense from the big fella has been there all season, even during his difficult offense period that didn’t kick in until after All-Star break.
“I think his bread and butter is defensive and rebounding,” said Vogel. “Being one of the best rim protectors in the game. He’s really grown and learned how to understand angles, earning no-calls, playing a game without fouling…All the analytics say he’s the toughest guy to score on at the rim.”
4) The Knicks pick-and-roll game was effective. Raymond Felton scored 12 of his 18 points off of it in the first quarter. Hibbert admits that his quickness and foot speed make it difficult for him to cover them and the guard often gets tucked underneath the screen. Moving ahead in the series, the Knicks may choose to use the sets more often as it can lead to an open shot for the point guard, the big man on the roll, or a wing on the weak-side. Ian Mahinmi played almost nine minutes but was ineffective and Jeff Pendergraph didn’t see the court. For everything he brings, Hibbert needs to be on the floor and improve in that aspect.
“I laid back a little bit,” said Hibbert. “I was more worried about [Tyson] Chandler and [Kenyon] Martin rolling to the basket, because those I feel like those are higher percentage shots. Felton was hitting those in the beginning. I told my guys, if I am not doing something right, just don’t let it slide. You have to hold people accountable. When we walked to the locker room and George Hill looked at me in the face and said, ‘get the hell up on the screens.’ I don’t take offense to it, we are trying to win … it’s constructive criticism and I got up a little bit higher and guard both.”
5) When the Pacers have it going as they did Sunday afternoon, they’re enjoyable to watch and have a chance to beat anyone. They aren’t a flashy team but they possess features – defense, work-ethic, and smarts – that give them a chance in every game. Last series, Vogel stated that the biggest number of adjustments in a series come in between the first two games. I don’t see the Pacers making any monumental changes.
As for Knicks head coach Mike Woodson: “We have to give better effort across the board for us to get out of this series. I thought we played well in spurts but again the loose balls, our rotations. There are things we can clean up as a group and get better come Tuesday.”