A long time ago, perhaps during my early high school years, someone once told me, “A drunk mind speaks very, very sober thoughts. In some cases.” This thought proved true Sunday afternoon while “celebrating” Cinco de Mayo and watching Game 1 of of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Myself and a group of friends ended up hitting El Centro off U St in D.C. The rooftop – while cool from a scene perspective – was too packed and the lone TV was showing playoff hockey. Matriculating back downstairs where I originally started off were a group of Knicks fans tossing back drinks by the handful because, well, such was the theme of the day.
Only this time, they were pretty much silent in regards to the game. Beforehand, this one guy in the group let everyone know the Knicks were Finals-bound and Carmelo was the “real MVP.” Fair enough. It’s not that his claims bothered me. You pull for your squad regardless of the scenario and pray for the best. Myself, being a guy who finds avoiding basketball conversations at bars more difficult than Amanda Bynes avoiding doing something f*cked up and posting it on Twitter, I voluntarily placed myself in the dialogue.
We talked the Knicks, how they “played along” with the Celtics and how this would be an easy series. I listened. I nodded. And in my head, I laughed. The first half went back and forth. It was an entertaining first 24 minutes with neither the Pacers or Knicks gaining the upper-hand. Yet, I reminded buddy, the Pacers were something the Celtics weren’t. They boasted legitimate post presences in Roy Hibbert and David West. And, this was one vital, the Pacers were basically healthy as the Celtics probably would’ve been better off starting Bill Simmons at point guard.
What happened next? As the second half went by, this once boisterous Knicks fan became quieter and quieter. The Knicks struggled to get anything going inside. Carmelo found himself in foul trouble in the third and went to the bench with four fouls and 6-17 shooting. The Pacers were making Melo and J.R. Smith (who shot a combined 14-43) work on both sides of the court – Melo having to guard a traditional power forward in David West is something to keep an eye on moving forward – and in turn it disrupted the entire “dear-God-please-let-these-jumpers-fall” offense New York is basically predicated around. To be fair, Melo got going in the fourth, but by then it was too little too late as his 27 points and 11 rebounds weren’t enough to erase a lead by the Pacers which had stretched into double digits.
The last thing the Knicks fan – who was all but halfway to “blackout land” by then – muttered as I cashed out midway through the fourth? “Melo has to be smarter with his shot selection.” And it’s true, but at this point, the Knicks live and die by what got them here. The series is far from over and most people still have the Knicks advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals. And chances are Melo will have one of those “good Melo” games between now and next weekend where he morphs into Bernard King: The Remix nailing every shot imaginable.
However, it’s not like Frank Vogel’s Pacers will roll over and die either. Keep in mind, they were up 2-1 on Miami last year until the third quarter in Game 4 happened when LeBron and D-Wade morphed into NBA 2K-mode. The Pacers are a lot of things, but intimated by the stage isn’t one of them. I noted on Twitter earlier this has the potential for a big time coming out series for Paul George. Granted, by me saying that, he fouled out in Game 1 proving my “New Orleans Saints Jinx of 2009” is still alive and kicking, but his defense on Melo was vital in Indy pulling away in the third.
Then there’s Roy Hibbert who has to realize he’s seven feet tall, talented and has an advantage over the Knicks’ interior. The Pacers are also the best at defending what the Knicks are one of the best teams on the planet at doing – nailing three pointers. Chances are, that immovable object vs. irresistible force dynamic could ultimately decide the series. And if Indy can somehow find a bench player to replicate what DJ Augustin did in Game 1 (16 points on 4-5 from three point range), then they may be on to something here.
It’s only one sample, but the Pacers did exactly what any team on the road desires entering a series – steal Game 1 and set the tone moving forward. As for the drunk Knicks fan who I’m pretty sure didn’t make it to see the end of the game? Well, here’s to him not heading into work tomorrow with a hangover. Those always suck.