The famous cliche that is always thrown around is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Perhaps for one, the sight of eighteen-thousand plus Indiana Pacers fans packing Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Saturday night, eager to have their first home playoff game against the hated New York Knicks in thirteen years, is a start. The majority of the fans, dressed in bright “Gold Swagger” shirts that made the Fieldhouse look as bright as ever, brought their A-game on Saturday night. Whether it was George Hill’s back-to-back threes to start the game to put the Pacers up 6-0, or Tyler Hansbrough out-hustling Knicks center Tyson Chandler on a loose-ball, the crowd was alive and ready in a fashion that the Pacers couldn’t have asked any more of.
Maybe for another person, beauty is the idea that not everybody got a “Gold Swagger” t-shirt for free on Saturday night. In fact one particular fan sitting courtside in Spike Lee, who seemed much happier wearing a John Starks jersey with obnoxiously loud orange shoes to match, did not have a shirt waiting in his chair upon his arrival.
But maybe in a game that lacked much offensive rhythm, had some shaky officiating calls on both sides, and had a seemingly low score of 36-33 at the half, the beauty came in the form of the Pacers’ defense that has Indiana on top 2-1 in the series. After allowing the Knicks to go on a 36-4 run on Tuesday night in game two, Indiana did everything in their power outside of throwing the kitchen sink at the Knicks to suffocate New York and leaving them lifeless on offense. Not only did Indiana manage to hold the NBA scoring champion in Carmelo Anthony to just 21 points on 6-16 shooting, but for the first time all season long, not a second Knicks player scored double-digits worth of points in the 82-71 victory.
“Our guys usually do what we emphasize,” said Vogel, who’s Pacers defense limited New York to just ten three-point attempts all game long.
“We know if we are going to take the three-ball away from this team, they are going to struggle to score. We don’t want to do it at the expense of giving things up at the rim or buckets in the paint, but we were able to guard the paint. We allowed 28-points in the paint and at the three-point line, and that is the goal with this team.”
Indiana seemed to slow the Knicks down with a combination of a half-court, brute force type of basketball that perfectly represented the blue-collar type of attitude this Pacers team has taken on all season long. Over the course of the game, whether it be Paul George’s ability to stay in front of Anthony or Roy Hibbert keeping Tyson Chandler away from easy offensive buckets, New York just could not get anything started.
“Offensively we just didn’t have anything,” said Knicks Head Coach Mike Woodson. “I thought defensively we held in there and did what we had to do. But we just didn’t have any offensive pop.”
Much of the Pacers success on the defensive end can be pointed towards the effort of George Hill and Lance Stephenson, who couldn’t have done a much better job keeping New York’s guards in-check all 48 minutes. Starters Pablo Prigioni and Raymond Felton combined for 1-11 from the field, while JR Smith only contributed nine points while Jason Kidd only got off one three-point attempt while leading a goose-egg on the board.
“We talked about pushing up into them and making them do what we want to do,” said Hill, who finished with 17 points on the night. “That is what we tried to do tonight, and our bigs did a great job being high on the screens. They really detoured them to not just get to the paint but towards the corners. So you have to thank everyone on this team for shrinking the floor and playing good, solid team defense.”
With that said, the Pacers weren’t exactly putting on an offensive-clinic on the other side of the court. Indiana (35%) actually managed to shoot a lower-percentage then New York in the game (35.2%) and would probably like to have some of their wide-open looks back. Paul George, who finished with 14 points on the night, combined with George Hill to go 7-24 from behind the arc and had a game-high five turnovers overall.
The Pacers were successful however because of the big-man down low in Roy Hibbert, who finished with a game-high 24 points, 12 rebounds as he continues to show-up Tyson Chandler in the battle of the best big men in the Eastern Conference.
“That is the all-star Roy,” said Paul George. “That is the Roy that we know that we have, and when he plays at that level it makes the game so much easier. He is able to protect our paint and make shots on the other end.”
Hibbert was able to make the most of a night battling around the rim, grabbing eight offensive rebounds and going back up in attempt to make the most out of each board. None were more exemplary than early in the second quarter, when up 18-15 with 11:22 on the clock, Pacers forward Sam Young missed a jumper within ten feet. Hibbert then jumped over Kenyon Martin to tip the ball back up, which hit the rim and allowed Hibbert to go up for a second-time past Amar’e Stoudemire’s hand, and even after that didn’t fall in, Hibbert went up for a third time over Amar’e and finally got the two-points.
It was a game in which Hibbert was practically able to do what he wished down in the paint, though this didn’t lead into his post-game press conference. Hibbert had brought in a monocle to wear, a corrective lens that is worn over just one eye, but fellow teammate George and Pacers Director of Media Relations David Benner suggested against it. But even without the monocle on, one could see the dominant performance that Hibbert had on the court.
“The mantra that I had before was ‘tonight was my night, tonight was my night’,” said Hibbert.
“Luckily my hooks were falling and I was active around the basket. First and foremost, I just wanted to help Paul George out on (Carmelo Anthony). I was trying to be there every possession that he had the ball, and make things tougher for him because Paul has been working.”
Hibbert would later that add that essentially the Pacers plan was to have him and George on the court whenever Anthony was also on the court, which would explain why George (43:21) and Hibbert (40:21) had logged so much time throughout game three. Though as Hibbert’s minutes elevated, so did his play on the court as well.
“I think this is his best playoff game ever, probably,” said Vogel.
“He’s just oozing with confidence. He’s playing extremely well on both ends of the court. We know he’s going to dominate the defensive end. When he has offensive production like he did tonight, then we’re pretty good.”
Indiana now has seized advantage of the series, but a game four on Tuesday night could be a pivotal game if Indiana keeps up their recent playoff trend at home. The Pacers are an undefeated 4-0 in the playoffs, and a 3-1 could prove crucial in their hopes of reaching the Eastern Conference Finals.
“We have another tough game here in a couple nights,” said David West. “We know they are a tough team, and we just have to continue to stay the course.”
Staying on the course of beauty, as ugly as winning at times maybe.