Sunday, May 19, 2013

Knicks - Pacers Game Six: The Knicks Take The Lance

Give It Up To The Lance
You need to be something of a NBA nerd to know much about the Pacers, let alone Lance Stephen- son. Known primarily for being a knucklehead in last year's playoff against the Heat, tonight he changed everything about his reputation with not just the best game of his playoffs, but his career. The ex-Cincy Bearcat and second round pick in 2010 had a night for the ages, playing like he, and not Carmelo Anthony, was the best player on the floor. For a guy who only reached double figures in 4 out of 11 playoff games this year, and was pretty much an 8/4/3 guy this year as a defense-only option, scoring 25 on 13 shots was just a contribution that the Knicks were not going to be able to overcome.

As for Anthony, he was amazing for three quarters and the only reason the Knicks were in the game at all in the fourth. But how you get to 39 points as important as scoring them in the first place, and Anthony's fourth quarter, where he was a ball stop, a shot misser, a turnover machine and a guy who couldn't make plays on the defensive end of the floor, will be the takeaway. From watching the game, it looked to me like he lost heart about the same time as he lost his legs, and while I usually hate analysis that goes away from the numbers and into the head, there is his past playoff history (this is only the second year since he got into the NBA where his team escaped the first round of the playoffs) to take into account. As gifted as a scorer as he is, he's never had a consistent game outside of points to make his team win. The idea that someone with a vote gave him the MVP, and not LeBron James, should be a revocable offense.

Knick Fan will also want to blame the refs for this one, and maybe even the entire series. That certainly seemed to be what Knicks coach Mike Woodson was left with at the close, but that's just what happens when a jump-shooting team plays bangers; the jump shooters avoid contact and don't get calls. It's also one more nail in the fallacy coffin over the idea that NBA games are fixed, since a Heat-Knicks series would have done something like 5X the business that this Heat-Pacers one will.

Anthony apologists will have other places to go, of course.  The first being that J.R. Smith never really regained his form after the suspension in the Celtics' series, that early season heavy minutes and his own jaw-dropping age made Jason Kidd utterly worthless by this series, and that the continuing distraction that is Amar'e Stoudamire is going to weigh down this franchise for as long as they have him around.

The Knicks are an odd collection of young and on the rise, along with not really ready for the crucible (Ian Shumpter, Chris Copeland), in the middle of their careers but erratic (Anthony, Tyson Chandler, Raymond Felton), and absolute end of career wrecks (Kidd, Stoudamire, Kenyon Martin, Marus Camby). This year, by hitting their threes, not turning the ball over and playing fairly inspired defense, they won a weak Atlantic Division and fooled me into thinking they were going to go as far as the Heat... but in what has to be considered something of a trend considering the rise of the Grizzlies, they got taken out by a power team in the Pacers. Roy Hibbert will have the signature highlight of the series for his test of strength blocked shot win at the rim against Anthony, but the guy that truly ended the Knicks tonight was Stephenson, who was second only to Hibbert with 10 boards to go with his 25 points and 3 assists.

The hype for Heat-Pacers will mention how the Pacers won the season series, how the Heat haven't actually played a good or healthy team in the playoffs this year, and how the Pacers will have a huge edge in the middle with Hibbert. Perhaps we'll even hear about how the Heat were down to this very same Pacer team last year, and get more about how Dwyane Wade just isn't right.

But still, it's hard for me to counter the two best leading indicators of the NBA -- team with the best player wins, versus the team with the best big man. Unfortunately for the Pacers, both of those rules go to James. The series begins on Wednesday, which is just long enough for both team to be good and rusty, really...

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