Indy Offense Overwhelms Knicks
The new year continued to treat Big Al Jefferson and the Indiana Pacers well as they cruised past the New York Knicks 123-109 on Saturday night for their season-best fifth straight win.
No. 7 provided a tremendous spark off the bench, tallying 14 points in 15 minutes, adding seven rebounds, two assists and a steal along the way. With those 14 points, Al passed former Pacers great Chuck Person on the NBA all-time scoring list.
Indiana put the pressure on the Knicks from the outset, going on an 8-0 run midway through the first quarter to take an early lead, but threes from Kristaps Porzingis and Courtney Lee kept New York close.
The Pacers second unit was the difference maker in the first half lead by Big Al and C.J. Miles. Al scored six points during a short stint in the first quarter, first catching Carmelo Anthony sleeping on defense in the paint. Next Al grabbed an offensive rebound and was fouled on his putback attempt, but he cashed in both free throws. Then in the closing minute of the quarter, Al fought off four Knicks to secure an offensive rebound and converted the second chance opportunity to give the Pacers a seven-point lead.
Indiana sprung the game open in the second quarter, using an 18-4 stretch that opened up a lead they wouldn’t lose the rest of the night. Al and the second unit held the Knicks to 14 points in the period and took a 62-43 into the break. It was the fifth straight game in which the Pacers have opened with a 60-point half. New York is the third-best rebounding team in the league but the Pacers owned the boards in the first half and enjoyed a 15-0 advantage in second chance points.
Typically a stellar third quarter team, Indiana opened the second half sloppily with three turnovers in the first three minutes after committing just five the enter first half. The Pacers continued to roll offensively, though, and the lead was a game-high 26 going into the fourth quarter.
Big Al was back in to start the final frame and contributed his final points of the night with 10:52 to play on a running jumper in the paint by way of a Monta Ellis assist.
Al talked about the playmaking ability of Ellis in the postgame locker room.
“I’ve known him for a long time but I did not know that he was a great playmaker the way he is,” Al said. “That’s a guy that makes every right play.”
Al kept the offense rolling a minute later, making a very nice transition pass from the paint to Miles for a corner three.
The Knicks kept fighting, though, cutting the lead to 15 with seven minutes to play on several wild shots from Brandon Jennings. The Pacers lead shrunk all the way down to 11 with 4:56 left in the game when Pacers head coach Nate McMillan reinserted his starters to close it out. The lead never sunk lower 11 after that, and Indiana left with its win streak intact.
Winning the rebounding battle has eluded the Pacers, even during their current win streak, but they outmatched the Knicks 58-41 in that category.
“This is the type of team that can kill you on the boards,” said Al after the game. “They’ve got seven-footers and wing guys that come in and get on the boards so we really had to step that up tonight.”
The Pacers only play once next week but in a very different change of venue at the O2 Arena in London against the Nuggets on Thursday.
“It’s a business trip for us. I think it’s a great opportunity to represent the Pacers organization and the NBA,” said McMillan. “We will prepare for that game just as we do at home.”
The Nuggets enter on a five-game losing streak and the Pacers winners of five straight. The only team with better points per game and field goal percentage averages in the league than the Pacers over the last five games is the Golden State Warriors. Tipoff from London is at 3 p.m. EST.