By Chris Connolly
The Knicks had a grind out 85-75 victory over the Pacers in Game 5, forcing the series back to Indy for a Game 6 show down. After the Knicks failed to protect home court in Game 1 at the Garden, it has become apparent the team would need to steal one game in Indy. The Knicks failed to do so in Games 3 and 4, but will have the opportunity at redemption in a must win Game 5. Winning basketball games on the road in the playoffs is never an easy task, let alone an elimination game. In order for the Knicks to prevail in Game 6, a big contribution will be asked of the bench. Bench play has been a strong suit for the Knicks team all season, and with Mike Woodson extending his rotation in Game 5, it will be vital for them to pull through in Game 6.
Obviously, when thinking of the Knicks bench, the first person to come to mind is J.R. Smith. Smith, who boasted this year’s Sixth Man of the Year award, averaged a career high 18 points with a respectable 42% shooting percentage. As far as the playoffs, Smith’s life off the court and his dreadful shooting slump has been documented in equal proportion. J.R. has shot a woeful 29% from the field, while only averaging 13 points per contest in the Eastern Conference Semi’s. The good news on J.R, as all Knicks fans have experienced, is he can shoot himself out of a slump in a matter of minutes. Woodson has stuck with J.R. through his slump for that exact reason. It is time for Smith to put the negative publicity behind him and come up with a big Game 6. Expect Smith to be aggressive, as he always is, and try to get off to a hot start. During the Knicks 13-game win streak in the regular season, Smith was taking the ball to the basket and finishing with authority. It would be in Smith’s best interest to get back to that style, if Indy allows it, to gain some confidence. Being a streak shooter, seeing the ball go through the basket could trigger a hot streak. This could be done by getting to the basket and either drawing a foul or converting a dunk or layup.
With the Knicks struggling on offense, fans pleaded for Coach Woodson to extend the bench and play Chris Copeland. To our delight, Woodson did just that and Cope did not disappoint. In 19 minutes of Game 5 action, Copeland sparked the Knicks bench by contributing 13 points, including three 3-point field goals. Cope’s ability to stretch the defense will be a major benefit to the Knicks offense in Game 6. With the defense likely swarming Carmelo Anthony, Cope will be the beneficiary of open perimeter shots. It will be Cope’s job to knock these shots down in Indy. Copeland presents a significant match up problem for the Pacers. David West is not accustomed to defending on the perimeter, and would have a problem containing Cope. If the Pacers decide to put a smaller player on Copeland, he has the ability in the post to make a move and get an easy score.
Kenyon Martin will be looked to bring an energetic spark off the bench. Since K-Mart was signed as a late season free agent, he has brought a particular edge that was lacking before his arrival. Martin has become a fan favorite for his ability to do the dirty work on the boards and on the defensive end. Kenyon will be an important component in holding down Roy Hibbert in the post and limiting second chance opportunities. All series long the Pacer offense has cashed in on second chances. If the Knicks can limit second chances, the likelihood of escaping with a win increases significantly.
Then we come to the combination of Jason Kidd and Amar’e Stoudemire. Neither Kidd nor Stoudemire saw action in the second half of Game 5. Over this year’s playoffs Woodson has been very loyal to Jason Kidd, playing him big minutes even at his ‘advanced’ age. Woodson finally backtracked from this strategy, as he gave Kidd’s minutes to Chris Copeland and Pablo Prigioni. Kidd’s role in Game 6 will most likely be a limited one, but in the minutes Kidd does receive he must be reliable on defense and provide the veteran leadership he was brought in to pass along. If Kidd is brought in with the correct combination of players, it will only enhance his abilities to be a contributor.
If Amar’e Stoudemire were healthy, he would be the key low post threat the Knicks are lacking offensively. Unfortunately, STAT is just a shell of his former self at this point, and may never be more than a role player again. The good news is, if the Knicks guards can penetrate into the paint, Amar’e will be able to finish at the basket. Defensively, most people see STAT as a liability, which he may be; but I see a big man with 6 fouls to use in limited minutes. The Pacers have done a good job all series getting into the Knicks head by opposing their will and playing physical. Maybe it is time for the Knicks to give them a dose of their own medicine.
Stealing a game in Indy will be no easy task, especially with the circumstances at hand. No matter what combination Mike Woodson decides to use, the bench will play an integral role in the team’s success. While Carmelo Anthony could be the best pound for pound scorer in the game, he cannot carry the entire burden by himself. Who will step up in Game 6?
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