The Knicks finally vanquished their longtime nemesis, the Celtics, but their reward was the even younger, larger and faster Pacers.
The Pacers showed the Knicks they're likely going to be an even bigger threat than Boston, as they drew first blood with a convincing 102-95 win in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
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"They just flat out played harder than we did today,” said Carmelo Anthony. “That was the key in their victory."
Anthony hasn’t been effective in over a week during these playoffs. He’s gone 35-of-130 (26.9 percent) from the field, including a paltry 2-of-22 from behind the arc, in the last four games.
The Pacers used a balanced attack as all five starters reached double digits in scoring, led by David West's 20 points. Lance Stephenson also had a big game as the Brooklyn native felt right at home in the Garden as he notched 11 points and a game-high 13 rebounds. The fact that Stephenson had so many rebounds from the shooting guard position showed that the Knicks will be vastly undermanned on the glass all series.
The Knicks got very little from shooting guard J.R. Smith, as he could only muster 17 points (4-of-15). Raymond Felton was solid all game, scoring 18 points, and Carmelo Anthony warmed up late and finished with 27 points (10-of-28 shooting), but New York got very little else from a supporting cast that was sans sharpshooter Steve Novak (back).
Head coach Mike Woodson specifically called out center Tyson Chandler, who was vastly outplayed by the Pacers’ Roy Hibbert. Chandler fouled out at the 2:36 mark of the fourth quarter, but he was essentially nonexistent all afternoon anyway. The 7-foot-1 pivot was lost in the even bigger shadow of the 7-foot-2 Hibbert, as he could only muster four points and three rebounds before bowing out of the game.
"I thought they played harder than our team tonight, that's the difference,” said Woodson, quickly turning to Chandler’s ineffectiveness. "I thought Hibbert played better [than Tyson Chandler] tonight, too.”
Indiana should take great confidence heading into Tuesday's Game 2 knowing their best offensive option and the recipient of the NBA's Most Improved Player of the Year award, George, only had 19 points on 5-of-14 shooting. But as most star players do, George found a way to help his team in other ways by adding five rebounds and four assists, while staying aggressive in getting to the foul line eight times and making seven.
“Obviously we’re upset losing at home, losing that first game, but at the same time we still got six games left,” said Felton, who hinted the Pacers were allowed to be the far more aggressive and physical team by the referees. "They're being really physical with Melo. They’re banging him, they’re hitting him and they’re going at his shoulder."
Follow Knicks beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.