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Pacers Hope to Mellow Anthony

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

May 8, 2013, 9:15 PM

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The Knicks will go as Melo goes, that much we know. The Pacers contained him in Game 1 of their second-round playoff series with New York and they won convincingly. He became unleashed in Game 2 and they lost convincingly. It was no coincidence.

So now that the Pacers have a template for winning the series that resumes on Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the challenge is as simple to understand as it is difficult to execute. The NBA's leading scorer this season, the only man to get an MVP vote other than LeBron James, is capable of winning a game by himself, but he can just as readily shoot his team out of a game. The trick for the Pacers is to sway him toward the latter option.

“He's probably going to score 30 points in each game,” Pacers guard Lance Stephenson said following the Pacers' 105-79 loss on Tuesday. “It's about stopping the plays and eliminating what he likes to do. Again, he's going to score 30 points in probably every game during the series.”

Thirty, or so. Anthony scored 27 points in Game 1, hitting just 10-of-28 shots. He scored 32 in Game 2, hitting 13-of-26 shots. He's not acrobatic, but he's 6-foot-8, strong and possesses a deadly-quick first step that allows him to get to the rim against most defenders. He beat David West off the dribble to score on consecutive possessions late in the third period on Tuesday when the Knicks trailed 64-62, drawing a foul off help-side defender Jeff Pendergraph on the second one for a three-point play that opened a three-point lead and ignited New York's 30-2 run.

Anthony not only hit half of his 26 field goal attempts in the game, he grabbed nine rebounds, had three assists and two steals, and didn't commit a turnover. For one evening, at least, he made the Boston writer who gave him his lone league MVP vote look smart. He colored within the lines of the Knicks' offense, contributing to what Knicks coach Mike Woodson called “the best offensive display we have had.”

Anthony creates a dilemma for Pacers coach Frank Vogel, because his defensive options are limited. Paul George is obviously the best choice, but who else? West isn't quick enough, and Lance Stephenson isn't tall enough. Sam Young got a second chance on Tuesday after a difficult re-introduction to playing time in Game 1, but played just 6 minutes, 49 seconds, so his viability as a defender remains uncertain.

George will have to log heavy minutes on Anthony, which threatens to detract from his offense over the course of the series. He'll also need help from Roy Hibbert around the basket. Hibbert blocked three of Anthony's driving shots on Tuesday, and two on Sunday. He'll never guard Anthony, but he'll be just as important to the Pacers as the defender who does. Anthony can get to the basket against virtually anyone in the NBA. I still have a distinct memory of him beating Ron Artest off the dribble when Artest was in his Defensive Player of the Year season with the Pacers in 2003-04. Hibbert will be the Pacers' last line of defense, because George doesn't claim to be able to do it all himself.

“Melo just caught fire,” George said following Tuesday's game. “You know, we switched our personnel up a little bit. And again, Melo just caught fire. He found opportunities and mismatches and he was just being aggressive.”

Anthony seemed vulnerable after Game 1 because of his inefficient performance, the Pacers' success against him throughout this season and the reports of his sore left shoulder, which he's protected with a brace. He seems more dangerous now in the wake of his Game 2 revival, and is perhaps inspired by the taunting tweets of former Knicks star Bernard King.

King, who has been selected to the Naismith Hall of Fame, issued two tweets following Sunday's game, both of them in essence suggesting Anthony become more of a team player. The tweets were later deleted and King, who works part-time for the MSG television network that broadcasts Knicks games, claimed an associate issued them.

The Pacers don't want to face an angry, motivated Anthony, unless that inspires him to take bad shots. The best they can do is challenge him as well as possible on the perimeter, and get help from Hibbert in the lane. They led the NBA this season in defending the three-point line and the foul lane, and Anthony will test them better than anyone can other than James. Missed shots will not deter him from trying to score.

“I can't stop attacking,” he said following his Game 2 victory. “I can't stop being aggressive on the basketball court.”

His rate of aggression will remain constant. His rate of success likely will determine the outcome of the series.

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