Copeland comes up big off the bench

Chris Copeland scored 20 points off the bench in the Knicks' 90-80 win over the Indiana Pacers at MSG. AP Photo/Seth Wenig

How many times have we seen Chris Copeland score about as many points as the minutes he plays?

That was the case Sunday afternoon in the Knicks' 90-80 win over the Indiana Pacers when he had 12 points in only 17 minutes in the first half. At one point, he was 3-for-3 from the field at the start of the second quarter in just about a minute span.

By games' end, Copeland had 20 points on 8-for-12 shooting in 34 minutes, scoring with his quick release from 3-point range, pick-and-popping and taking his man off the dribble.

Offensively, Copeland has fit right in with the Knicks' smaller lineups during their recent 15-1 record. He's been a mismatch at power forward or center, where he's been one step ahead in creating space against slower-footed defenders, which has also enabled him to attack the basket more with ease.

The extra speed on the court, based on the guard-oriented play, has helped Copeland get more open looks from downtown, where he needs very little room to shoot. An overlooked aspect of his offensive game is his court awareness and off-the-ball movement. He knows which spots he should be in to receive passes for jumpers.

Not only has Copeland adjusted well offensively, but he's also been making strides on the other end. That's a credit to him being a sponge, learning from the defensive-minded Mike Woodson and the Knicks' veteran big men. Old-school toughness and footwork positioning are what he's taken away the most, and he displayed that on Sunday going up against Pacers All-Star center Roy Hibbert.

On one possession in the first quarter, Copeland stripped Hibbert when the center was making a move, and then he drew a charge on Lance Stephenson. Later in the second period, Copeland helped set an aggressive halfcourt trap and then provided hard-nosed help defense on Tyler Hansbrough, which led to a steal and the Knicks forward hitting a 3-pointer in transition.

While Copeland's pick-and-roll defense still needs improvement -- he has to do a better job of preventing point guards from turning the corner quickly off screens into the lane -- he's excelled with his isolation and post-up guarding.

"He has done great," Steve Novak said. "He's been over-matched sometimes; he's guarding 5-guys and he's not a 5-man ... I think he's adjusted quickly and learned how to battle with those guys. Because he's been able to hold his own and use his fouls, and on offense spread the floor and make those guys come out to guard, I think he's been a huge weapon."

Copleand's late-season defensive adjustments should further propel him into the playoff rotation. While Copeland told ESPNNewYork.com after the game that he doesn't know yet if he'll have a role in the postseason, Woodson suggested he will.

"I think so," he said. "He's gotten so much better from the time we started camp, even going back to this summer and summer league ... It's my job as the coach to make sure guys are not satisfied and push them to play even at a more higher level. He's got that in him."

Coincidentally, the Knicks' first-round playoff opponent, the Celtics, is the team Copeland first lit up as a Knick. In two preseason games against them, he had 21 points in 19 minutes, and then 34 points in 36 minutes. With the Celtics missing their offensive catalyst Rajon Rondo and recently struggling to score, Copeland could be the key extra offensive threat. And defensively, Copeland could make an underrated impact against Paul Pierce, who has slowed down at his older age and is more of a one-on-one player.

"He's a guy who's really going to help us in the playoffs," Raymond Felton said. "When you add another guy that can give you 12 to 20 points that's not really accounted for on the scouting report, that's big for us."

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