The series between the Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks has played out about as everyone expected from a stylistic standpoint. The games have been slow, methodical contests between teams looking to grind their way to the Eastern Conference Finals.
In terms of winning and losing, though, it's been Indiana's series. Playing the kind of basketball they hope to coax out of themselves each and every night, the Pacers have played bigger, played stronger and played harder than their opponents. Really, they're playing the kind of basketball that won 49 games during the regular season.
For some years now, the league has been moving toward smaller lineups armed with long-armed defenders and quality shooters. The Pacers don't severely lack those kinds of players, but their ability to couple those characteristics with size and intensity makes for a truly imposing squad.
The play in recent games reflects just how dangerous Indiana can be. The Knicks aren't exactly the weaklings of the NBA, but it's difficult to argue they haven't been pushed around a good deal in this series.
In New York's lopsided Game 2 win, the team held a plus-two advantage over the Pacers in rebounding. That actually qualifies as a resounding victory for the Knicks in that category. During the Pacers' pivotal 93-82 win on Tuesday, Indiana had a 54-36 advantage on the boards. Three days prior, it was 53-41 in the Pacers' favor during an 83-72 win.
This has become the defining issue for the Knicks in this series, more than the excessive isolation plays, mediocre three-point shooting or flu bugs. New York simply can't keep up with the likes of Roy Hibbert, David West and Paul George down low, and it's utterly killing the team.
In Game 4, the Knicks tried to make adjustments. They played bigger lineups, giving extra minutes to guys like Tyson Chandler and Kenyon Martin. It hardly mattered, as West, Hibbert and George each grabbed double-digit rebounds in their latest display of post dominance.
At this point, it's not clear what else Knicks coach Mike Woodson can do. He's gone small, he's gone big. The Pacers respond in the same way each time, with an elbow to the gut and a hand in the face. It's not hard to imagine the seeds of doubt emerging in the minds of some New York players.
The reasons for that are pretty simple. In the past four games, the Pacers have played bigger, fought harder and executed better. Entering Game 5, it's not clear New York has an antidote for this problem.