NEW YORK -- In David West's words, the Pacers had the Knicks "almost on the ropes" near the end of the third quarter on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden. A 1-0 series lead already secured, it was time to eclipse any glimmer of daylight that Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks were trying to find in Game 2.
Indiana was on a 10-4 run, turning a four-point deficit into a two-point lead on consecutive 3-pointers from Lance Stephenson and George Hill. Anthony missed a jumper, and all the Pacers had to do was close the quarter strong and the home team was about to become as tight as Spike Lee's larynx after he goaded Reggie Miller into one of those Knicks-killing performances in the '90s.
"I don't think we understood the moment," West said after the Pacers unraveled in epic fashion from that point on, losing to the Knicks 105-79 to even the best-of-7 conference semifinals at 1-1 heading to Indiana.
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The Pacers played the first half like a team that knew it had already accomplished what it had come to New York to do -- and by that, I don't mean sipping Cristal at the 40/40 Club. But they were gaining control of the third quarter after Hill's 3-pointer gave the Pacers a 64-62 lead. After the missed jumper by Anthony, what came next -- an over-coaching moment from Frank Vogel -- helped turn the tide.
With a TV timeout approaching at the first dead ball after the three-minute mark, Vogel called a timeout of his own with 3:05 left in the period as the Pacers were getting into their offense and looking to add to their lead. Vogel explained afterward, "That's a timeout I usually use in that situation to put something in when we have the ball."
What Vogel put in resulted in a turnover when Hill's pass for a curling Paul George was deflected and stolen by Anthony. With Roy Hibbert out of the game -- Vogel had sent Jeff Pendergraph in for him during the timeout -- Anthony sized up West, who was defenseless with three fouls, and drove past him for a layup that tied it at 64-64.
Incredibly, the Pacers didn't score another field goal until the 3:09 mark of the fourth, a span of more than 12 minutes. Their first points of the fourth came from Tyler Hansbrough at the free-throw line with 4:48 left, after which the Knicks were up by 24.
It was a collapse so brutal that Miller -- the former Pacer working the game as a TNT analyst -- must have wanted to wrap his hands around his throat the way he used to do when taunting Spike in the old days.
"I thought we let them off the hook," West said. " ... We let an opportunity get by us."
More than anything, the Pacers gave new life to Anthony, who grimaced through a sore shoulder on his way to 32 points and nine rebounds while applying the hammer to Indiana late in the third and in the fourth. Anthony scored the first five points of the 30-2 run that started after that Vogel timeout and 11 more in the fourth.
"When he can get his feet set and get in a rhythm, which I thought he did the end of the third start of the fourth," West said, "it's just tough to contain him after that."
The same can be said for Anthony when an opportunity to bury him under the pressure of an 0-2 series deficit is squandered. When Anthony finds a rhythm, when the Knicks pressure the ball and force 21 turnovers resulting in 32 points and when their guards get everyone organized and move the ball, none of this can be expected to end well for the Pacers.
"The game was a two-minute game," West said. "If we close the quarter the right way and start the fourth with some defense, it's a different game."
Game 3 will be Saturday night in Indianapolis. That's right, after three days off -- three days for Amar'e Stoudemire to test his surgically repaired knee in practice before possibly returning to the fray after missing two months. Can you imagine the hysteria if Stoudemire were walking into an 0-2 series?
If he returns, Stoudemire should expect a defensive aggression and toughness that more resembles how the Pacers played in Game 1 than in Game 2. Hibbert & Co. stifled the Knicks with sound defensive principles and physical play in stealing the series opener, and West repeated three times in the course of a two-minute TV interview at his locker what needs to happen to restore order.
"They were too comfortable," West said. "Way too comfortable."
Or, as Hibbert put it, "We played pretty timid and soft."
Translation: Stu Jackson, who doles out fines and judges the severity of fouls at the league office, might not want to make any plans for Sunday. A series that reminds everyone of the hard-knock playoff battles between these teams in a different era might resemble those days even more before this is over.