Post Up: In Control
The Pacers and Spurs have the Knicks and Warriors on the brink of elimination.
Pacers 93, Knicks 82 (Pacers lead series 3-1)
With all the chatter and distractions surrounding the Knicks—from injuries, to sickness, to bricked shots, to chemistry issues—it came as no surprise that a focused Indiana team came out last night and won Game 4 handily. Since Saturday night’s loss, the Knicks players and coaches discussed getting back on track and playing the ball that got them this far in the first place. But talk is cheap and Indiana, who has been a model of consistency during their postseason run, continued to stymie and stifle their opponent with lock down defense.
Indiana once again crushed the Knicks inside, owning them on the glass with a 54-36 margin and outscoring them 36-26 in the paint. Paul George was an absolute menace on both ends of the floor. He continued to impress on the defense by holding Melo to 24 points on a woeful 9-23 shooting and tallied 18 points, 14 boards, 7 dimes, 2 steals, and 2 blocks. This kid is going to be a star. Not to be outdone, George Hill had the best game of his playoff career, scoring 26 points on 9-14 shooting. The hometown kid was magnificent, much to the delight of the Indiana crowd.
Frank Vogel has been putting on a coaching clinic while Mike Woodson is showing why his Atlanta Hawks teams never advanced deep into the postseason. Vogel has gotten his guys to buy in defensively and is getting the most out of players like the aforementioned Hill, and Lance Stephenson. He hasn’t tinkered much with his rotations, and doesn’t have to. With the Knicks shooting so poorly, he can coach games exactly the way he pleases without having to make many tactical changes.
Woodson, on the other hand, looks lost. He continues to rely on JR Smith despite his horrific shooting slump, he played Pablo Prigioni just three minutes last night (and declined to comment on it during postgame), and he refuses to search for a spark off the end of the bench from Steve Novak or Chris Copeland. Instead of sticking with the small ball lineups that got them this far, he has tried to match Indiana’s size by going with bigger lineups, but the Knicks simply don’t have the bodies to matchup. Granted, with New York missing so many shots it’s easy to blame Woodson—who has really done a fantastic job with this roster up to this point–but by failing to gameplan effectively and losing control of his team, he has been instrumental in New York’s 3-1 hole.
The Knicks and Pacers head back to Manhattan for Thursday night’s Game 5. The Knicks will go back to the drawing board to try and figure out how to crack the code of Indiana’s defense while the Pacers will keep on doin’ what they’ve been doin’ with a shot to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2000.—Peter Walsh
Spurs 109, Warriors 91 (Spurs lead series 3-2)
“I was terrible, plain and simple. They outplayed us as a team, but individually I didn’t have anything on either end. I was a step slow, shot wasn’t falling. I was trying to make plays, but defensively I lost a little focus. I personally have got to be better.” —Warriors guard Stephen Curry
It was the same formula that we’d seen in Game 4 from the Golden State Warriors that would similarly unfold in Game 5. With a gimpy ankle hobbling the phenom guard Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson unable to find his rhythm, the Warriors were forced to lean on their other perimeter players to carry them forward. Harrison Barnes and Jarrett Jack emerged, doing the heavy lifting needed to keep the team in contention. When Curry found his openings late in the game and Thompson was able to add a key basket to send the game into overtime, the Warriors were able to eek out a Game 4 overtime victory.
In Game 5, Barnes and Jack was carrying the load (45 points combined on 56 percent shooting from the field), and the Warriors were hanging in that purgatory-type land where the Spurs were a few points ahead but never really out of reach. They knew if Curry and Thompson could just kick it in gear for a few short minutes, then maybe they could close the series out at home in Game 6. Yet that wasn’t meant to be, as Thompson wouldn’t attempt a single three-pointer and Curry would be badgered, pestered and unable to crack the San Antonio Spurs code on him. The dynamic backcourt produced an anemic 6-22 shooting performance and just 13 points combined in the final box score. The 109-91 victory of the Spurs was as convincing as the differential in the score, and now they’re one win away from getting back to the Western Conference Finals.
Of course the head coach won’t let his players feel there’s an inevitability of closing this series out. No sir.
“Nobody talks about getting this over with like you’ve got a rash. Like you can take a pill or put some cream on it, it’s going to be gone. This is a war. They’re a class team; they bust their ass at both ends of the floor. It’s not about getting rid of anything. It’s about going and playing and that’s about it.” —Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich
If you’ve heard this recipe before with the Spurs then just be patient as there might be a few among us that are witnessing the systematic process in which San Antonio executes. Tony Parker’s lethal execution (25 points, 10 assists) by navigating to the rim and from the perimeter was to be expected. Tim Duncan’s ownership of the backboard (be it by bank shot or by rebound) served as another reminder of an old man plying his craft after years of seasoning in his profession. Manu Ginobili’s tricks and craftiness were on full display, proving that he is one of our generation’s greatest shooting guards. Yet those guys weren’t who stood out to me on this night.
It was Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green.
One was a questionable draft pick whose place in the league was unclear, and the other a guy who lived on the fringes of just staying in the league, are now in many respects the most important players on a championship contender. When someone needs to be locked down on the outside, its up to Leonard and Green. When someone has to make a hustle play or a spot-up three, its Green and Leonard. There are things that Parker, Duncan and Ginobili simply can’t quite do like they used to in their prime, and it falls at the feet of Leonard and Green to pick up the slack.
Leonard and Green combined for 33 points (13-18 shooting), 10 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals and countless defensive possessions of harassing Curry and Thompson. Their performances were plenty enough for the Spurs on this night. If these two young guys ever find a way to consistently play like this, then not only are the Warriors in real trouble, but the other championship contenders will have to deal with the Big 5 instead of the Big 3.—Eduardo Maisonet, III / @edthesportsfan