Chris Copeland, the Knicks' 29-year-old rookie, knows his role on this team -- stay humble and stay ready. Reaching into a bag he brought with him to the interview room after the Knicks' 85-75 victory over the Pacers in Game 5 Thursday night, Copeland showed he has mastered the first part.
With a big smile, he pulled out a pink plastic child's backpack presented to him earlier this season by the veterans. "The whole team has been great from top to bottom," Copeland said. "Everybody has been looking out for me and teaching me the ropes."
Copeland rewarded the faith of his teammates and coach Mike Woodson by providing an offensive spark off the bench as the Knicks cut their deficit to 3-2 in the Eastern Conference semifinal and sent the series back to Indiana for Game 6 Saturday night. In 19 highly efficient minutes, Copeland had 13 points and shot 4-for-6, including 2-for-3 from three-point range, to go with four rebounds and two steals.
"I'm just extremely excited I could have some kind of impact on the game," Copeland said.
For much of this series, the Knicks gave leading scorer Carmelo Anthony little help, especially with J.R. Smith mired in a shooting slump. In their Game 4 loss Tuesday night in Indiana, Copeland hit a couple of three-pointers, and that convinced Woodson to expand his role.
Woodson started the second quarter with Copeland, who played several seasons in Europe. It seemed his greatest asset simply was the ability to stay active at both ends. Copeland drew a foul and knocked down both free throws, and he showed he's not a liability on defense with a rebound and steal. Then he buried a left-wing three for a 32-23 lead that was the Knicks' biggest to that point.
For the first time in the series, the Knicks led at halftime, 40-34. That led Woodson to go back to Copeland at the 7:16 mark of the third quarter.
Once again, he delivered with a left-wing three for a 53-44 margin. There was a turnover by Copeland and then he missed another three-point attempt. But instead of standing around, Copeland rebounded a missed three by J.R. Smith and scored on a putback for a 59-48 lead that had the Garden in an uproar.
Copeland's increased playing time meant Amar'e Stoudemire was limited to seven first-half minutes in which he took no shots and scored two points from the foul line. Asked for his reaction to Woodson's choice to go with him, Copeland said, "I just wanted to make him look good, as I've said a few times this year. I was just trying to make my presence felt.
"We had great spacing and we moved the ball well. Melo attracts so much attention that he makes it easier for us . . . I'm going to stay aggressive. My teammates want me to stay aggressive and the coaches as well."
Now it's on to Game 6 in Indianapolis, where the Knicks haven't won this season in four tries. "We're battle-tested on the road," Copeland said. "We know how to win on the road."