In Game 5 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series, Knicks coach Mike Woodson finally found a formula to beat the Pacers. In addition to the usual reliance on big guns Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith, it involved a whole lot less of veterans Amar'e Stoudemire and Jason Kidd and a healthy dose of 29-year-old rookie Chris Copeland.
Never mind what it says on the players' paychecks. Woodson said Friday that his rotation for Game 6 Saturday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis will depend on who's putting numbers on the scoreboard, not in their checking accounts. Trailing 3-2, the Knicks must win in Indiana for the first time in five tries this season to force Game 7 Monday night at the Garden.
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"It's about winning," Woodson said in a media conference call. "We played a different rotation [in Game 5], and it worked. We'll look at that rotation again . . . When we lost Game 1 [at home], we knew the only way to get out of this series is you've got to go get a game in Indiana, and this is our last chance."
In Games 3 and 4 on the Pacers' home court, the Knicks led for a grand total of 76 seconds. Only eight teams in NBA history have come back from a 3-1 deficit to win a seven-game series, but momentum might have shifted before Game 5 when the Pacers lost point guard George Hill with a concussion.
Hill is day-to-day and must pass a concussion test to return. His absence would rob the Pacers' limited offense of a vital piece at a time when the Knicks' offense is coming out of its funk.
With Kidd and Stoudemire playing a combined 12 minutes (all in the first half) in Game 5, Copeland had 13 points, four rebounds and two steals in 19:25 and shot 3-for-4 from three-point range. If that keeps up, he might earn more playing time.
"In Games 3 and 4, I'm searching because we are struggling to score," Woodson said. "In Game 4, especially, I'm mixing and matching, trying to find combinations, and it didn't work. [Thursday] night . . . Chris was more involved.
"If he's playing well and doing the things asked of him on the floor, sure, his minutes can grow. But if he's not, I've got to search. It don't matter who plays. It's what you do in the minutes you get . . . "
Copeland can sub for Anthony, or Woodson can play them together to space the floor. When he did that in Game 5, point guard Raymond Felton found room to penetrate and dish off to big men.
Defensively, Woodson agreed that it's vital for the Knicks to limit the Pacers' second-chance points. In Game 5, Indiana hit 9 of 12 second-chance field-goal attempts and still shot only 36.2 percent overall. Without those easy baskets, the Pacers' offense would have flatlined. "It is a major concern," Woodson said of the Pacers' putbacks. "It was really noticeable in their favor."
The key to a reversal of fortune for the Knicks on the road will be to make the Pacers chase. "It would be nice to get off to a great start," Woodson said. "I'm going to be pushing to see if they can play catch-up basketball instead of us having to do it."