Pacers expect Knicks to bring it in a must-win Game 4
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But the Pacers' 2-1 lead over the Knicks at the same stage of the playoffs this season has a decidedly different vibe. In the Game 3 loss, the Knicks' armor developed a crack as they abandoned their three-point shooting game and afterward openly questioned whether everyone was on the same page defensively.
Given the high expectations for the Knicks to advance to an Eastern finals showdown with the Heat, it's obvious how much pressure they're under to win Game 4 Tuesday night and avoid a 3-1 series deficit.
"If we were in the same position, we'd feel like it's pressure on us," Pacers forward Paul George said Monday. "Especially being on the opponent's floor. They've got to come in and play well."
The Pacers are cognizant of signs of turmoil within the Knicks, but they've been careful not to wake the sleeping giant with any trash-talking. "When guys are talking amongst each other, it's because they care," George said. "That's how I look at it. They want to win, so, they're talking it out. Whether they're frustrated or not, that will be in their locker room. We just stay in ours."
Indiana coach Frank Vogel said learning how to build on a 2-1 series lead to maintain the home-court advantage his team gained by winning Game 1 at the Garden is "the next step in the growth of the franchise."
He expects the Knicks to play with more desperation. "I never feel they're cracking their armor," Vogel said. "They're as explosive an offensive team as I've seen."
Actually, the Knicks' offense was about as explosive as a wet firecracker in Game 3. They scored 71 points and shot 3-for-11 from three-point range, numbers that represented season lows for makes and attempts.
"We're trying to limit them from the three-point line," Vogel said. "I don't think they're really passing up open threes or discouraged. They're just not getting open threes, and that's part of our plan."
The key to the Pacers' three-point defense is the presence of 7-2 shot-blocking center Roy Hibbert. The Pacers play tight man-to-man defense on the perimeter and try to avoid double-teaming Knicks shooters Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith. If a defender gets beat, Hibbert is waiting in the paint.
"For the most part, [positions] one through four run their guards off the three-point line so we can limit their three-point attempts," Hibbert said. "Then, I try to take care of the rim."
It's working. The Knicks are on their heels heading into Game 4, if not completely rattled. But forward David West said the Pacers take nothing for granted.
"A series can change in one game," West said. "We're not overreacting to the win we had the other night. We know they're a great basketball team. They're going to come with a different type of fire and passion. We just have to be ready to handle them."