After seven consecutive games of scoring over 31 points, Carmelo Anthony had to take a little breather from out-of-this-world shooting, without having to worry about the New York Knicks needing him too badly. Thanks to the surprising contribution of Chris Copeland while the more expected scoring of J.R. Smith also came in handy, there really wasn’t any need for ‘Melo to be special.
You felt Anthony slowing down a couple of games ago, as the Bulls forced him to 36 points that did more harm than good, missing 21 field goal attempts. Against the equally tough defensively Indiana Pacers, Anthony was 9-23 from the field, hating those long arms Paul George and others have to make him a lot less impressive than usual.
Yet, at this stage of the season, the Knicks are deeper and better than the Indiana Pacers, hence clinching the second spot in the Eastern conference with a 90-80 win. Anthony led the team in scoring (who else?) with 25 points, dropping down to 28.6 points per game and an 0.5 lead in the race for the scoring title against Kevin Durant. Chris Copeland, one of the best kept secrets in the NBA, was the best off the bench with 20 points, followed by J.R. Smith, scoring 15.
Copeland getting consistent minutes lately has been one of the best things that are happening with the Knicks – even if it’s him starting as a center and guarding guys like Roy Hibbert. Copeland has scored in double figures for five consecutive games, averaging 15.2 points over his last five, not to mention his defense on Hibbert and with the team, helping force 26 turnovers on the sloppy Pacers, who also shot a terrible 43.2% from the field.
A likely preview to a second round matchup? Carmelo Anthony sat down in the fourth quarter not just because it looked like the Knicks were on their way towards a win. Playing against the Pacers demands a certain kind of pace and physicality, and there’s no use endangering your players when Indiana, knowing that ordinary basketball wasn’t really working for them, resorted more and more to the physical side of the game, not helping them anyway when it was all said and done.
Home court advantage for two rounds at least means a lot for a team like the Knicks, not seeing a lot of postseason success for over a decade. And yet, you can’t help but feel something fragile about them – that once the three point shooting doesn’t show up at over 35-40%, they don’t have much of a backup plan.