Knicks vs. Pacers: Mike Woodson's big move might not pay off

USA TODAY Sports

Mike Woodson decided to run with a bigger lineup at times to avoid a hypothetical matchup problem caused by the Indiana Pacers' size. It didn't work in Game 1, but Woodson says he'll double down.

After seizing the No. 2 spot in the East by winning 56 games in the regular season, the New York Knicks have made the somewhat questionable decision to switch things up against the Indiana Pacers.

You can see it just by looking at the starting lineups. The Knicks play small with Carmelo Anthony at the power forward. Alongside him, the Knicks always run either three guards or two guards and a shooting forward like Steve Novak or Chris Copeland. Anthony initiates, and if he kicks, there are guys spread around the wings. It worked well, as the Knicks hit more threes than any team in NBA history in 2012-13.

The Pacers, on the other hand, start a prototypical power forward and center in David West and Roy Hibbert. And with three lengthy wings on the floor, they like running off shooters on the perimeter. Indiana allowed fewer three-pointers attempted and a lower percentage on three-point attempts than any team in the NBA this season.

If styles make fights, this is a pretty interesting one, as Frank Vogel mentioned in his postgame press conference, streamed on NBA.com:

"They became the best team in the NBA playing their style of play," Vogel said of the Knicks, who at times early in the year have the league's best record. "So you have to give credit to Coach Woodson for finding the formula that works for them. It'll be contrasting styles most of this series."

Except instead of sticking with a formula that worked all year, the Knicks opted for drastic lineup changes. For a stretch at the end of the first quarter and another in the middle of the third, the Knicks played Kenyon Martin alongside Tyson Chandler, a rare two-big lineup for the Knicks. During those two stretches, the team scored five points and allowed 16. The flow offensively was rickety, with a clogged paint, a lot of J.R. Smith dashes into the stern defense of Hibbert and fewer three-point threats spread across the arc. In Mike Woodson's defense, one of these lineups was spurred by foul trouble to Anthony, but that wasn't the case in the first half and it wasn't necessary even with the foul trouble.

Woodson spoke about the lineup postgame:

"I don't think we gained a lot. From a defensive standpoint, we weren't bad but we didn't get much out of the offense. We gotta put some sets in come tomorrow so they can work together better. We haven't played a lot of minutes with two bigs this season, so we've got to figure that out tomorrow."

It seems a little bit misguided to switch up one's offensive philosophy after an entire season of success. It seems especially misguided to do so when you admittedly don't have the proper sets in place offensively to facilitate the new strategy.

As Vogel noted, Woodson has done a tremendous coaching job with the Knicks all season, turning a strange, rarely healthy roster into a potential contender with contributions from players with checkered or nonexistent NBA pasts. He'd be wise to stick to his guns rather than panicking to react to a matchup that has the possibility to be unfavorable. The Knicks are the No. 2 seed due to the style of ball they've played. They're more likely to be successful with that proven style than one hastily installed on the fly. (Oh, and we didn't even mention the impending return of Amar'e Stoudemire. That should make things less confusing!)

Raymond Felton spoke about the changes as a foregone conclusion:

"If we gotta go big than we gotta go big. You've got to adjust to what the other team's strengths are. If we go big it's just something we've got to do."

Vogel spoke about Anthony's ability to play power forward, saying the matchup the Knicks seemed to shy away from didn't hurt the Knicks as much as one might think:

"I don't know if we have an advantage vs. some other teams. He's able to play the 4. He's a strong post defender. He can match up with fours and he's a matchup nightmare defensively if you put fours on him. Their style of play is working for them and we've got to do the best we can with our style of play."

It will be interesting to see what types of adjustments Woodson makes heading into Game 2 as the Knicks try and tie up the series. He appears intent on continuing to work with more two big lineups, but perhaps he would be better off just sticking with Anthony at the 4 and going with what has been mostly successful all season.

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