The Knicks have had their best season in over a decade, winning 54 games, an Atlantic Division title and making the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 1999. However, a loss to Indiana on Thursday, which would knock them out of the second round in only five games, would color all those accomplishments.
Very little has gone right for New York this series, as it lost home-court advantage in a 102-95 loss in Game 1 and has struggled to find their game ever since. The Knicks were run off the court in Games 3 and 4 in Indiana, losing both by 11 points, as the Pacers defense suffocated their offense.
While only 8 teams have come back from a 3-1 series deficit in NBA history, the Knicks certainly have enough talent to force the series back to Indiana. The Pacers, meanwhile, don't want to play a deep series, not after the Heat advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals on Wednesday night.
The game tips off at 8 p.m. ET on TNT, with the Knicks as five-point favorites. Here's a quick look at three questions that could determine the outcome:
1) Is J.R. Smith alive?
No one has had a rougher postseason than the Sixth Man of the Year, whose play has fallen off a cliff since a one-game suspension for elbowing Jason Terry in the first round. In the last five games, Smith has averaged 13 points, four rebounds and one assist per game on 29 percent shooting.
Smith is the only Knicks player besides Carmelo Anthony who can consistently create his own shot; he'll have to be more efficient if they're going to have any chance in this series. One possible adjustment Mike Woodson could make is moving back to a small-ball lineup, since playing two big men clogs the paint and only encourages Smith to hoist fade-away jumpers instead of attacking the rim.
2) Can the Pacers avoid turning the ball over?
It's no coincidence that the only Knicks victory in this series came in Game 2, when the Pacers turned it over 21 times. In the half-court, the Indiana defense, ranked No. 1 in the NBA, has been able to shrink the floor while still running New York off the three-point line. That changed in Game 2, when the Knicks pushed the ball in transition, getting 32 fast-break points and scoring before the Pacers defense could get set.
With Roy Hibbert and David West dominating upfront, Indiana wants to slow the pace as much as possible. As a result, the key will be the offensive execution of George Hill, Lance Stephenson and Paul George, who combined for 12 turnovers in Game 2, including seven from George. If they can avoid too many live-ball turnovers, the Knicks offense will have a hard time getting back on track.
3) Will Mike Woodson go small?
Before Game 4, Woodson conceded defeat in the battle of styles between the two teams, starting both Tyson Chandler and Kenyon Martin in an attempt to match up with the Pacers big men. He also stuck with Amar'e Stoudemire, who has been ineffective since coming back in Game 3. With their season on the line, will Woodson return to the small-ball lineup that has been so successful for the Knicks all year?
One obvious tweak would be playing Chris Copeland more. Copeland, at 6'8 and 225 pounds, has the size to at least bang with West while also being able to spread the floor from the three-point line on offense. Copeland had six points on 2-for-3 shooting in Game 4, and the Knicks were plus-12 in his 10 minutes of action.