Powered by an ensemble effort on both sides of the floor, the Indiana Pacers took Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals from the New York Knicks on the road, 102-95. The big win tilts homecourt advantage in Indiana's favor going forward.
The Pacers' league-best defense was as advertised in the opening game. Roy Hibbert was brilliant inside, the 7'2 center thwarting numerous forays into the paint by Knick attackers, going straight up to prevent J.R. Smith and Carmelo Anthony from finishing their drives with regularity. He finished the game with five blocks.
Though the team primarily stuck Paul George on Melo, Indiana used a number of different looks on defense to stifle the elite scorer. George's length forced Melo inside to attack Hibbert, and Anthony responded with an inefficient shooting night -- 27 points on 10 of 28 shooting.
Rebounding was another advantage as the Pacers soundly beat the Knicks on the glass, 44-30, thanks to the size advantage afforded by Hibbert and David West. The Knicks' few attempts to match Indiana's size were riddled with sloppiness as the team clearly looked out of sorts.
Lance Stephenson was especially big on the glass for Indiana, his defensive assignments on non-threatening point guards allowing him to freelance and grab a game-high 13 boards.
On offense, D.J. Augustin was the surprise star for the Pacers. Averaging just 4.7 points per game in the regular season, the back-up hit his first five shot attempts, including three from beyond the arc, before completing a superb effort with another key three-pointer late in the game.
Augustin's 16 points came in sharp contrast to J.R. Smith. The Sixth Man of the Year missed nine of his first ten shots and ended the game 4-for-15 from the field, a continuation of his ugly finish in the Boston series. West added 20 points and George had 19 to power Indiana.
Early on, the Knicks were the more aggressive bunch. Raymond Felton was a thrill out of the pick-and-roll, getting some nice rolls on nifty layups and putting in a few buckets off of floaters. An 11-0 run spanning the end of the first and beginning of the second quarters had New York up seven points and the Madison Square Garden crowd worked up.
But Augustin quieted the Knicks and their fans, punishing New York with big shots off the bench. Augustin, West and George each had ten points in the first half, with George's three right before the end of the half giving the Pacers a 52-46 lead at the break.
Anthony finally seemed to get into a rhythm in the third, but he picked up his fourth foul contesting a George jumper and had to head to the bench. Without Anthony, the Knicks ran a bigger lineup featuring both Kenyon Martin and Tyson Chandler, which wasn't particularly effective. With Anthony out, the Pacers would push a 6-point lead to double-digits, including a 7-0 spurt at one point. In the period's final minute, Augustin's fourth three of the night would make the lead 16.
The Knicks showed signs in the fourth quarter, the lead being trimmed to as few as six, but the Knicks couldn't string together enough consistent play on both ends to complete the rally.
New York will have a chance to tie up the series in Game 2 on Tuesday.