Rapid Reaction: Pacers 81, Knicks 76

WHAT IT MEANS: In a very sloppy shooting night for the Knicks (34.8 percent, 4-for-20 from 3-point range), they were clearly missing Carmelo Anthony's second-leading 29 points per game.

But he was serving a one-game suspension after an altercation with Kevin Garnett on Monday night, which left things up to J.R. Smith. And that made things much easier for the Pacers' defense -- one of the best in the NBA -- down the stretch. The Pacers outscored the Knicks 23-16 in the fourth quarter, led by Paul George (24 points).

The Knicks fell to 5-7 in their past 12 games and 23-12 on the season. They could have had a chance to take over the lead in the Eastern Conference if the Heat were to lose later Thursday night in Portland.

KNICKS' GAME BALL GOES TO ... While Smith shot 10-for-29, what that doesn't show is how he still scored with many Indiana defenders coming at him like he was Anthony. The sixth man did everything he could do to score without Melo and to help the rest of his teammates. Smith was persistent in pick-and-rolls, weaving cleverly and aggressively to the basket, and had some streetball-like dribble moves to get open with George all over him.

Smith helped the Knicks go on a 13-3 run in the third quarter, also doing it with his passing to Tyson Chandler, Steve Novak and Jason Kidd. He finished with six assists, to go along with his game-high 25 points.

PIECES TO THE PUZZLE: Keeping to one of Mike Woodson's favorite phrases, here's how role players helped:

1. Marcus Camby's scoring. The backup center was actually the Knicks' leading scorer after the first quarter. In the game's first seven minutes, he scored seven points on an outside jumper and two driving shots. In most of his recent action since his return, he has been active on the boards and with his passing. But tonight, he looked to attack with Anthony out and the team having a sluggish start on offense.

Unfortunately, Camby went down in the third quarter with what the Knicks called a "sore left foot." It's the same foot that caused him to miss 12 games with plantar fasciitis.

2. Chandler's and Amar'e Stoudemire's finishing. While Chandler (12 points and 15 rebounds) worked well with Smith and Pablo Prigioni off pick-and-rolls, especially in the third quarter, Stoudemire (seven points and seven rebounds) had two great layups after spinning quickly off the dribble and then converting with his opposite (left) hand. His offseason work with Hakeem Olajuwon has appeared to pay off a bit since his return.

3. Chris Copeland's inside play. "The Predator" made his third start of the season in Anthony's absence, and he scored right away, as he had done previously. For the game, he had eight points. The biggest positive was his work on the glass, finishing with a season-high six rebounds. In fact, he had three offensive boards, and two of them became second-chance points.

TO THE FILM SESSION: Indiana finished with 10 fast-break points; New York had none. While both teams were nearly even with their scoring in the paint, those transition opportunities gave the Pacers' players confidence and the home crowd extra energy. That was a big difference in the game.

WHAT'S NEXT: Round 3 against the Bulls on Friday night back at the Garden. After the Knicks' second loss to them on Dec. 21 at home, Raymond Felton said, "Next time we play them, we'll be ready." They'll be happy to have Anthony back.

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