All season long, the New York Knicks had success playing small ball. Specifically, the Knicks usually used a two point guard lineup and surrounded Carmelo Anthony with shooters to create a devastating long-range attack that helped lead to 54 regular season wins.
With his team down 2-1 heading into Game 4 against the Indiana Pacers, Knicks head coach Mike Woodson abandoned that identity in favor of a bigger lineup in an attempt to match up better with the Pacers' frontcourt. Kenyon Martin replaced Pablo Prigioni in the starting lineup, which moved Anthony to the 3, a position he has not played much in this series.
The plan backfired, as Indiana still managed to win the rebounding battle 56-36 while scoring 36 points in the paint to just 26 for New York. Woodson said changing his team's fortunes on the glass is an absolute must if the Knicks are to get back in the series.
"Rebounding wise we got hammered on the boards again," Woodson said. "We're going to have to get to a point where we go home, we have to realize that we're going to have to rebound the basketball. I thought that's what hurt us in crucial situations when we would make a slight run, they would get another second chance opportunity and they capitalized on it. That's really what has hurt us. That was the big difference tonight again."
Not helping the Knicks' cause is that they are simply missing some wide open looks, shots that they were burying with far more regularity during the season. Anthony and J.R. Smith have been in a funk, while Jason Kidd has not made a basket in three weeks. Iman Shumpert went 0-of-6 and played just 16 minutes, although Woodson said that had nothing to do with the guard's sore left knee.
While it's tough to blame Woodson for guys missing open shots, he can be blamed for some of his lineup decisions. Kidd is a liability on both sides of the ball, so there's little reason to play him over Prigioni, especially when you look at the numbers. According to NBA.com, the Knicks have a net rating of 18.4 points per 100 possessions in 182 minutes when Prigioni is on the floor in these playoffs. In the 303 minutes he has been off the floor, the Knicks' net rating is -5.6. In Kidd's 235 minutes in the postseason, the Knicks' net rating is a dreadful -7.2, compared to 12.9 in the 250 minutes he has been on the bench.
Kidd played 16 minutes on Tuesday while Prigioni played just over three, and Woodson did not have a good answer for why that was the case.
"He (Prigioni) played under four minutes. I'm not going to sit and explain it," Woodson said. "Right now, I'm reaching and trying to find combinations that will work. We have to find some guys that can put the ball in the hole."
Those "guys" Woodson talked about could be Chris Copeland and Steve Novak, who combined to go 3-of-4 from deep in limited minutes on Tuesday. While neither player is much of a defender, their shooting could inject some much-needed offense into a struggling team. They really could not be much worse than Kidd or even Smith at this point, who has been battling an illness and is shooting just 28.1 percent for the series.
After four games, it does appear that the Pacers are the better team. However, going away from the small ball identity was a panic move by Woodson, and there are some other clear adjustments he should make that would likely give the Knicks a better chance of winning. Woodson's performance in Game 4 was not a good one, leading to this analysis from SB Nation's Knicks blog Posting and Toasting:
But I'm watching Woodson mutter through a press conference right now and he's treating missed shots like they were the only thing. They were not. Or, if they were, it's his fault. The weird lineups and intentionally scrambled defense made it so the Knicks were either going to suddenly start draining jumpers they'd been missing for over a week against a brilliant defense...or they were going to lose. They lost. So yeah, like CharlieObrian commented, everyone choked, starting with that coach. Woodson doubled down on everything that had been failing and everything that had been failing doubled down on failing. That's quadrupling down, you guys.
Woodson and his Knicks will try to stave off elimination in Game 5 back at Madison Square Garden on Thursday.
Woodson quotes via NBA.com.