Though not able to pull away with victories against teams like the Heat and Magic, the Knicks have been praised all season long for their ability to beat up on the weaker teams in the league. Playing the better teams more competitively, and coming away with clear cut victories against the weaker ones has seemingly made the Knicks a much improved squad this season.
However, the Pacers pushed the Knicks physically throughout the whole game Sunday, not going away as easily as those other weaker teams.
While the Knicks did end up winning 98-92, they certainly had to fight for the victory. The Pacers played a very physical game: playing well defensively (they did, in fact, hold the Knicks under 100 points), smothering the Knicks, blocking shots, and boxing them out for rebounds.
Knicks' floor general Raymond Felton seemed exhausted, already playing with a sore right hand. Unable to really get the offense flowing, Felton had five turnovers. Furthermore, his ineffectiveness was shown in the quiet offensive play early on by Amar'e Stoudemire and Wilson Chandler.
Nevertheless, everyone has an off game. The important thing is that a team has players to step up in the clutch, and that's exactly what Danilo Gallinari, Toney Douglas, and Ronny Turiaf did.
Gallinari had an excellent game, scoring a very efficient 19 points--he made 5 of 8 shots from the field and 9 of 11 from the free throw line. Gallo drove to the basket nearly every possession he had the ball, obviously drawing the foul quite often. It's been said before, but while Gallo's numbers are similar to past seasons, his points are coming much more in the flow of the offense this season.
Though his 19 points paced the Knicks early, a Brandon Rush headbutt to the knee sent Gallinari down for the count. Limping off the court, he was diagnosed with a "sprained knee." An MRI is scheduled for today.
With Gallinari down, Stoudemire and Chandler stepped up. As if someone flipped a switch, Stoudemire became monstrous in the fourth quarter, taking over with ease. He definitely had his way with the Pacers' James Posey in the post as he finished with 26 points.
All of Chandler's 10 points came in the second half as well.
Douglas stepped up in a big way for Felton, finishing with 12 points, 7 assists, and 2 steals. He played one of his smartest games of the season, being patient and often making the extra pass. He did shoot 4 for 10 from the field, but again, those missed shots were mostly good, smart looks.
Douglas did, however, seem to hurt his shoulder late in the game as he jabbed for another steal. The discomfort did not appear to be serious.
Turiaf's impact has also been praised again and again, and yesterday was no exception. Meeting the Pacers' physical challenge head on, Turiaf had four blocks in his first seven minutes of play alone. He paced the Knicks' defense, finishing with 10 rebounds and 6 blocks, which tied a career high.
He too, was seemingly banged up in the win, stating after the game that his shoulder had popped out before subsequently popping back in, late in the fourth quarter. He, like Douglas, stayed on the court while wincing through the pain.
It was certainly one of the Knicks' most intense games of the season--Turiaf and Felton both received technical fouls. Surprisingly not receiving techs, however, were Pacers' big man Roy Hibbert and the Knicks' Bill Walker. After Walker appeared to (albeit, lightly) slap Hibbert in the back of the head on defense, the 7'2 Hibbert barked back in Walker's face, the two having to be separated by Turiaf. Walker walked it off, grinning from ear to ear at the exchange.
The Knicks will go up against the surprisingly quicker Spurs, whose faster offense has led way to one of the league's best records, Tuesday night at home.