Immediately following the Knicks’ immensely disappointing 106-99 loss to the Indiana Pacers, culminating a 4-2 series defeat in their Eastern Conference semifinal pairing, “if, “but” and “how?” were the most commonly heard refrains from supporters of a team that won 54 games during the regular season and entered the postseason as the No. 2 seed in the East.
Yet, assessing the Pacers’ surprisingly dominating six-game victory against the Knicks isn’t a complex exercise. The Knicks’ lack of quality size, inability to keep the Pacers from devouring rebounds, absence of a reliable secondary scoring option to augment Carmelo Anthony and inadequate production on both ends of the floor from key role players doomed them.
The brunt of the blame for the Knicks’ ouster has been targeted at J.R. Smith, who, by his own account, was abysmal in the playoffs. In 11 games, including five versus the Boston Celtics, Smith shot 33 percent overall and 27 percent on 3-point attempts. And mirroring most his teammates, Smith’s defense was substandard.
“I left shots out there I should have made, and I wasn’t there for my teammates,” he dejectedly said after going 4-15 in the closeout game. “When you have the ‘season’ I had, your teammates are supposed to be able to rely on you … I didn’t step up.”
To Smith’s credit, he has demonstrated accountability and honest self-reflection during his postseason demise. However, it would be shortsighted to lay the bulk of culpability at his feet. Excluding Carmelo Anthony, whose 39 points in a losing effort in Game 6 affirmed that he indeed has championship chops, no one elevated their game when it mattered most.
So what does the future hold for the Knicks? It should begin with a change in offensive philosophy. The Pacers and Memphis Grizzlies have proved that playing inside-out is still a recipe for success. The Knicks must balance the overuse and reliance on the three-ball with a consistent power game in the paint. Of course, this entails acquiring a player who fits that description, which, given their salary cap restrictions, won’t be easy. The big man must also be a stout defender around the rim.
What’s clear is that personnel changes have to be made, and the Pacers showed why!