The normally high-scoring New York Knicks offense failed in a nearly historic way Saturday night against the Indiana Pacers.
The Knicks barely avoided setting a record for playoff scoring futility in an 82-71 loss to Indiana in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. New York’s record low for points in a playoff game is 67, and it took until 1:39 remained for the Knicks to eclipse that total at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
The Pacers took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series, and will try to move on brink of advancing at home in Game 4 on Tuesday night.
”Our problem is we’re playing as individuals,” Knicks center Tyson Chandler said. ”We’re getting in there and we’re forcing our shots. When we’re good, we get in the paint and I’m getting my dunk balls and that’s when all our shooters get to line the ball up and get looks. We’re playing individually, so we’re not making that extra pass.”
Sure, J.R. Smith played limited minutes as he fought a stomach virus and Amare Stoudemire was knocking the rust off in his first game since having surgery on his right knee two months ago.
Neither of those factors could explain such a colossal failure.
New York failed to score more than 20 points in any quarter. The Knicks shot 35 percent from the field and had just 10 offensive rebounds.
Only Carmelo Anthony, with 21 points, scored in double figures for the Knicks, but the NBA scoring champion went 6 of 16 from the field, managed only two points and no baskets in the fourth quarter and finished well below his playoff scoring average of 29.3.
Normally a dangerous 3-point shooting team, the Knicks made just 3 of 11 from beyond the arc.
”Sometimes, when we hold the ball too much, we can’t recover, take bad shots, throw the ball away,” Smith said.
Indiana’s defense had something to do with it, too. The Pacers didn’t let the Knicks get away from them on fast breaks or get good 3-point looks, and didn’t even give New York a chance to challenge late.
Instead, Roy Hibbert, Paul George and Indiana showed what it can do when it plays its game.
”That’s how we play Pacers basketball,” George said. ”We just locked in, and it was just helping one another on the defensive end.”
Hibbert finished with 24 points and 12 rebounds, while George nearly came up with another postseason triple double with 14 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. David West got off to a slow start but finished with 11 points and 12 rebounds and George Hill knocked down five 3s and he finished with 17 points.
It was enough to allow the Pacers to overcome a 28-for-80 shooting performance that included a season-high 33 3-point attempts.
”Tonight, the big difference was second-chance points that they got with our turnovers,” Smith said. ”Whenever we give up that many turnovers and let those guys keep tipping the ball and get offensive rebounds and extra plays and extra possessions, it’s going to be like that.”
It’s the same formula Indiana used to win Game 1, and now, if the Pacers win a fifth straight home playoff game Tuesday night, they will head back to Madison Square Garden with a commanding lead over a longtime rival.
”We didn’t change much in terms of our physicality,” West said. ”I just thought we were a little bit more precise defensively in terms of our communication and we shored some things up. We didn’t allow them to get some of the things they got in the second game in New York.”
Smith gave it a go although his shooting woes continued. He went 4 for 12, scored nine points and walked directly to locker room when he was replaced midway through the fourth quarter. A few minutes later, he came back into the game and is now just 11 of 42 from the field in the series.
Stoudemire looked rusty in his return, making just 3 of 8 eight shots – one a dunk, another on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to end the third quarter – and finished with seven points and two rebounds.
The Knicks led once in the game, for just 76 seconds, and barely escaped the ignominy of setting a franchise playoff record for fewest points in a game. The all-time low is 67. New York didn’t hit 68 until Kenyon Martin’s dunk with 1:39 to play.
”Offensively, we just didn’t have anything,” coach Mike Woodson said. ”I thought defensively, we hung in there and did what we had had to do, but we just didn’t have any offensive pop and we have to figure that out.”
And fast or the second-seeded Knicks will spend the rest of this series playing catch-up.
New York had a chance midway through the third quarter when it closed the deficit to 44-41. But instead of faltering, as the Pacers did in Game 2, they thrived on New York’s miscues.
When Chandler was called for his third foul, he lost his cool and was whistled for a technical foul. That allowed the Pacers to score three points on the possession. West followed that with a 19-foot jumper and after Chandler went 1 of 2 from the free throw line, Indiana seized control with a 9-0 run that made it 58-44.
Stoudemire’s buzzer-beater to end the quarter got the Knicks to 62-51 and New York eventually got as close as 65-57 with 9:10 left. But Indiana answered with seven straight points and never let the Knicks challenge again.
”It was just one game,” Smith said. ”They shot a terrible percentage too. It was great defense by both teams. We’ve just got to get ready for Tuesday.”
NOTES: The Pacers are 4-0 at home with an average victory margin of 16.5 points. … New York is now 0-3 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse this season. … Saturday’s loss marked the first time New York lost in this year’s playoffs while holding a team to fewer than 90 points. The Knicks are now 5-1 in those situations. … Movie director Spike Lee showed up inside Bankers Life Fieldhouse for Game 3 in a Knicks jersey and orange hat.