One of the immediately apparent nice things about the Knicks’ Eastern Conference semifinals matchup with the Indiana Pacers is how lacking in outside drama it is. After a series with the Celtics that felt like every dribble carried a decade of heavy history with it, game one with against the Pacers felt comparatively free and easy. You have to squint really hard to make any of these current Pacers look like Reggie Miller. It didn’t feel like the fate of this team, in the annals of Knicks history, was hanging in the balance every possession. It just felt like two good teams, feel each other out and then going after each other. There’s nobody quite so hateable on Indiana yet. (Though Tyler Hansbrough is gonna get there by the end of this series, maybe sooner. Lance Stephenson has real potential too.) So that was great. It didn’t make the Pacers any easier to beat, though.
Indiana beat New York 102-95 in game one of their series, and the game wasn’t even really that close. (The Knicks made a slight run late.) The Pacers controlled the game from the second quarter on, and every time the Knicks would try to make a run to put a dent in the lead, Indiana would swat them away. And by “Indiana,” we mean “Roy Hibbert.” The Indiana center — and “Parks & Recreation” co-star — was without question star of the game, an absolute monster defensively who thwarted almost every Knicks drive by going straight up with his 7-foot-2 frame. He also dominated Tyson Chandler in every way, allowing the rest of the Pacers to close out on Knicks’ shooters and basically shutting down any driving opportunities on his own. The Pacers were bigger, tougher, stronger and better.
Even with that, though, the Knicks weren’t terrible on offense, scoring, as NBA.com’s John Schuhmann pointed out, at a more than a point-per-possession rate against the best defense in the NBA. But the defense was an issue, as was the rebounding: The Knicks were outrebounded 44-30 for the game. It didn’t feel like a missed opportunity. It felt like maybe, gulp, the Knicks might just be the worse team.
With 7:48 left in the third quarter, Carmelo Anthony went out after drawing his fourth foul and the Knicks down eight. He hadn’t played particularly well before then — he was 6-for-17 at the time and was responsible for eleven of the team’s 26 missed shots — but he’s still Carmelo Anthony. At this point, coach Mike Woodson could have gone in one of two directions. He could have gone to the hyper-small, two-point guard lineup he had some success with early in the second quarter, or he could try to neutralize Hibbert with bigs. He tried the latter. It didn’t work: With Carmelo out the rest of the quarter, the Pacers built their lead to sixteen points, and the Knicks were showed with boos as the third-quarter buzzer sounded. Carmelo and J.R. Smith had to share a lot of blame there: Combined, they were 7-for-27 at the end of that quarter. Smith was 1-for-10 and pretty much rough all around. Again. Until the fourth quarter, that is, when he scored 11 points and showed new-found aggressiveness. Again. And it wasn’t enough. Nothing the Knicks did was enough.
So, the amount of time you had to enjoy the Knicks’ first playoff series win in thirteen years was roughly 45 hours before it was time to get terrified again. The Knicks have lost homecourt advantage already and are looking at Game Two on Tuesday night in which a victory is imperative. They have a lot to figure out between now and then, and not a lot of time to do it. You might not hate the Pacers yet, but let there be no doubt: They’re the favorites in this series now.