Game 2 of the 2013 playoff series is tonight in New York.
What a difference four days makes.
Entering Friday night, the Pacers still had yet to win on the road in the playoffs, suffering two lopsided defeats in Game 3 and 4 to the Hawks, and the fans were lukewarm about their chances beyond the First Round. Today? Indianapolis is whipped into a frenzy over the most sacred of sports’ accomplishments in this town: beating the Patriots shutting up the entire city of New York.
(New York City in complete silence. Music to all Hoosiers' ears.)
To say that I didn’t see Indiana’s bruising 102-95 win over the Knicks coming last week would be an understatement. The Pacers road struggles and their bench were perceived to be their biggest flaws entering this series, but you would’ve never known it from watching yesterday afternoon.
This was a Pacers team that entered the playoffs 19-21 away from Indianapolis, and had defeated just five playoff teams on the road (to go with 13 losses) during the regular season. They were the only NBA division winner with a sub .500 road record. That 5-13 mark included a pair of losses at the Garden to the Knicks, with a mostly one-sided 90-80 defeat occurring just three weeks prior to yesterday’s Game 1. In fact, Indiana’s tepid finish (lost five of six to close the regular season) coupled with New York’s torrid streak (a 13-game winning streak from late March to mid-April), cost the Blue and Gold homecourt advantage in this round. Consider that advantage negated.
As for the bench, D.J. Augustin single-handedly carried the second unit. He sparked a Pacers’ offensive explosion in a 30-point second quarter by hitting several threes, and finished the game with 16 pts on 5-6 shooting. Indiana also got good minutes from Tyler Hansbrough, who pitched in a handful of points along with three offensive boards. The only player that came off the bench who didn’t play well was Sam Young, who committed a comedy of errors at the end of the first quarter.
However, more than anything else, yesterday’s win was more about the Pacers' strengths than their so-called weaknesses. They’re big, they’re physical, they defend, and they rebound. All of those attributes were felt as they controlled the final three quarters and were able to hold off every Knicks’ charge. As AP writer Brian Mahoney noted in his game recap, physical beats finesse in the playoffs – no one understands that more than the Colts’ fans in this town. Roy Hibbert showed why his tenth-place finish in the NBA Defensive Player of the Year voting was a joke, while David West and Lance Stephenson (surprise!) controlled the offensive glass. The old-school nature of yesterday's game had both Carmelo Anthony and JR Smith whining and wincing.
I felt going in that this was matchup was a coin-flip, and it still looks like a series that is heading for six or seven games. The Pacers aren’t suddenly going to sweep every road game, nor is Augustin going to 83% from the field (he was 1-6 on Friday night and 0-4 from three), but if Indiana can continue to bring the same physicality that they brought in Game 1, they’ll keep the Knicks reeling in this series.
If the Knicks didn’t know what to expect going into this fight, they certainly know now.