May 16, 2013, 3:47 PM
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NEW YORK – They've been here before, both geographically and psychologically. So closing out a playoff series in Madison Square Garden shouldn't be a foreign concept for the Pacers.
Gauging the difficulty of the task is difficult given New York's uncertain state of mind, but opportunity is knocking loud enough to be heard in Miami, where the Heat await the winner of this series. The Pacers have the option of eliminating the Knicks and having some time off before facing the Heat on Monday, or having to play the Knicks again in Game 6 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Saturday.
They would prefer to direct warm thoughts toward Miami.
“I would imagine that would be the best scenario,” David West said following Thursday's morning shootaround at MSG. “When you have the opportunity to finish a team, you don't want these opportunities to go by. We have to take advantage of this.”
The Pacers were a poor road team throughout the regular season before sweeping that four-game Western trip that ended on April 1. That was nearly forgotten after they lost five of their final six games, and after looking lost in their first two playoff games in Atlanta.
They seemed to clear a hurdle in closing out the Hawks in Atlanta in Game 6 of that series, however, and brought that momentum to Manhattan, where the won Game 1 against the Knicks. And now here they are, poised to repeat the feat of Pacers teams in 1995 and 2000: closing out the Knicks in “The World's Most Famous Arena,” before their agonizing fans.
Knicks coach Mike Woodson, the Broad Ripple High School and Indiana University graduate, adjusted his starting lineup for Game 4, going with forward Kenyon Martin in place of guard Pablo Prigioni to try to compete with the Pacers around the basket. That didn't work, as the Pacers still controlled the boards, so tonight he's going back to the lineup that was most responsible for winning 54 games during the regular season.
The best guess is that Woodson will rely more heavily on the three-point shot. His team led the NBA in three-pointers made and attempted during the regular season, and tied for fourth in accuracy, but has hit just 32 percent in this series. The Pacers have been only fractionally more accurate, and have made 18 more attempts.
That seems to be Woodson's only hope of reversing the course of the series, which means he'll likely rely more heavily on his two best long-range shooters, Chris Copeland and Steve Novak. Copeland is a 6-8 rookie who hit 42 percent of his three-point attempts during the regular season and has hit half of his 10 attempts in the series. Novak, a six-year veteran, is in the league because of the three-point shot. He's a career 43 percent shooter, and reminded Woodson of his worth when he drained one from nearly 30 feet in the closing in the final minute of Game 4.
The Pacers, however, led the NBA in defending the three-point shot this season, and have gained gained confidence from their recent playoff success that they can deal with whatever strategy they encounter.
“They're definitely going to try to spread us out and shoot the three-ball, so we definitely have to be ready for that,” coach Frank Vogel said this morning.
“But our team's just growing and maturing continually every game. We're building on last year's experiences and this year's playoffs as well.”
Madison Square Garden will be a hostile environment for the Pacers tonight, full of Knicks fans still carrying a grudge over the series of Reggie Miller postseason heroics that began nearly 20 years ago. If the Knicks flounder early on, however, those fans will turn on the home team. The Pacers can do themselves a favor by giving the fans nothing to get excited about.
“We're going to have to try to take out the crowd as quickly as possible,” Paul George said. “That's going to be the key, controlling the environment. Whether it gets crazy or not, we're going to have to stay poised and still execute.”
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