The New York Knicks can dance around the issue all they want, alluding to a bad day at the office to explain what took place in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinals series against the Indiana Pacers. But all it takes is one look at Sunday's game -- just one -- to see that the Pacers appear too big, too strong, too disciplined, too focused for New York to plan on having basketball beyond the next week to 10 days.
Don't bother paying attention to Roy Hibbert's 14 points, eight rebounds and five blocked shots; pay attention, instead, to the fact that he's 7-foot-2. Never mind that David West dropped 20 efficient points; focus on his muscular frame and ask, "Why the hell was Carmelo Anthony assigned to defend this man?"
That's a legitimate question in the aftermath of the Knicks' 102-95 loss to the Pacers in Game 1. But it definitely is not the only one as the Knicks get set for Game 2 on Tuesday night.
"Effort," Knicks coach Mike Woodson deadpanned following Sunday's loss. "Indiana came out with it, and we didn't. We didn't show anything until we were down late in the game, and by that time, obviously, it was too late. We can't come out like that in Game 2."
Tell us about it!
Melo can't shoot 10-for-28 again, not after shooting 25-for-82 in his three previous playoff games. J.R. Smith, the team's second-leading scorer, can't come out and miss 11 of his 15 shots. At least not if he's trying to win a playoff game instead of a game of H-O-R-S-E.
Tyson Chandler has to find a way to limit Hibbert's effectiveness while learning to be effective himself. Iman Shumpert needs to play more. Woodson needs to make sure it happens, even if it means giving Smith, a favorite of boss James Dolan, some additional time on the bench. And we might have reached the point that, dare I say, Amar'e Stoudemire's services are actually needed.
Desperate times call for sizeable measures. With the Knicks' limitations on their front line, Stoudemire in a boot would help their cause. Particularly seeing whom they're facing.
Let's put this out there right now: The Pacers believe they are a better team than the New York Knicks. They believe they're the ones who belong in these semifinals, on the cusp of facing the Miami Heat in the conference finals, not the Knicks, who they believe to be new to this party.
It's the Pacers who have the size, the legitimate power forward, the 7-2 center, and length at practically every position that helped them clinch the No. 1 defensive ranking in field goal percentage and 3-point shooting. And they're the ones still seething over having lost to Miami in last year's semifinals, getting abused by LeBron James and Dwyane Wade when things mattered most.
"They're a hungry team," Smith told me before Game 1. "They want it bad. We know. That's why we have to be ready."
Except the Knicks weren't ready. They looked unprepared, and unwilling, for battle. Why? Perhaps it was an emotional low due to what they invested in Friday's Game 6 in Boston in the first round. Or perhaps, because they won, they felt as if they had arrived Sunday, since Game 1 of this series marked the first time they've played in Round 2 since 2000.
Either way, there are no excuses. Woodson clearly wasn't in the mood to hear any of them, and neither should the rest of us.
"Right now they're just being really physical with [Melo], they're trying to bang him, they're trying to frustrate him," Knicks point guard Raymond Felton said. "But we're going to be fine. He's going to be fine."
That sounds like a plan. But with Melo shooting less than 36 percent from the field in the past four playoff games, it seems as if the Knicks had better conjure up a Plan B. Which brings me back to Shumpert.
Shumpert shot just 4-of-11 from the field in 32 minutes Sunday. Nothing earth-shattering. But it has come to a point that there is no way he should be seeing time on the bench in favor of Jason Kidd or J.R. Smith unless both decide to provide some offense or Shumpert needs a breather.
In seven playoff games, Kidd is averaging 1.6 points on 17 percent shooting from the field. It's laborious to get him to shoot the ball. In Smith's case, the numbers climb to 15.5 points per game, on 36.4 percent shooting from the field.
With Melo struggling the way he has been, with Indiana looking to take the Knicks out, "we've got to step our game up, plain and simple," Woodson proclaimed.
He knows it. Melo knows it. Smith knows it. Felton knows it. Chandler knows it. Kenyon Martin knows it. Even Stoudemire knows it from the bench.
So when are the Knicks going to figure things out collectively?
After one game, it's appropriate to ask that question. Why? Because "we're competing for a championship," Pacers assistant coach Brian Shaw said before the game. "We're confident. We believe in ourselves."
Yes, they do.
What are the Knicks going to do to create doubt among the Pacers? That is the operative question, assuming they're capable of doing it at all.