Carmelo Anthony's hot first quarter, in which he scored 13 points, fueled the Knicks to a 23-15 lead. The Pacers only shot 35.3 percent from the field in the opening period, but they picked things up before halftime because the Knicks' perimeter rotations were a bit out of whack. Pacers shooting guard and New York City native Lance Stephenson (13 points; 3-for-5 from 3-point range) was left too wide open. The Knicks' defensive court awareness needs a jolt.
Here are three other main observations at the half:
1. Chris Copeland's defense (and offense). Mike Woodson decided to start Solomon Jones at center in place of Copeland for more size against Pacers center Roy Hibbert. But as it turned out, Copeland's defense, which has improved recently, was better on Hibbert. On one possession, Copeland stripped Hibbert when the center was making a move to the basket, and then the Knicks forward drew a charge on Stephenson.
Later on, Copeland helped set an aggressive halfcourt trap and then came to provide hard-nosed help defense on Tyler Hansbrough, which led to a steal. On the other end, Copeland hit a 3-pointer in transition. In fact, during about a one-minute stretch at the start of the second quarter, he scored eight straight points. At halftime, he had 12 points on 5-for-8 shooting from the field.
To Jones' credit, in the first quarter he did a better job of setting harder screens than he did Friday night in his season debut. He helped Anthony (15 points) and J.R. Smith get open for jump shots off pick-and-rolls. In addition, Melo and Smith picked defenders well to free up their teammates for jumpers.
2. Knicks' improved offensive tactics. Off-the-ball screening, solid spacing and being in the right position to shoot without hesitation are factors that helped the Knicks go 5-for-12 from 3-point range. In addition, their passing has been on point. The guards are delivering the ball well to their teammates in their preferred hand-setup placement. That's a credit to the experience of Pablo Prigioni, Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd.
3. Smith's efficiency. The key during Smith's recent scoring streak? Not settling for outside shots. He was, once again, on the attack and scored closer to the basket. He has been especially effective lately in transition off of his own defensive rebounds, being a one-man fast break, and off of pick-and-rolls, exploding into the paint with his quick first step and athleticism. In 19 minutes, he scored eight points on 4-for-7 shooting from the field.
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