By MICHAEL MAROT
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Indiana follows a simple formula for success. Play hard, be tough and get rough if necessary.
The plan helped the Pacers win their first Central Division crown in nine seasons and earn a second straight trip to the Eastern Conference semifinals. And if Indiana hopes to reach the conference finals, it will have to revive that old-school philosophy when the second-round series shifts from New York to Indianapolis on Saturday.
“We have to come out and play hard and play with intensity and play with some energy,” Pacers swingman Paul George said. “The good thing is that we’re back home and energy shouldn’t be a problem.”
The key to getting back on track in this series, which is tied at 1, is being more physical.
Indiana has advanced this far in large part because its defense was hounding opponents like it was the playoffs long before the postseason started.
The Pacers led the league in defensive field goal percentage and defensive 3-point percentage and finished second in points allowed per game during the regular season. They also were No. 1 in rebounds (45.9 per game), rebounding differential (plus-5.0) and tied for third in offensive rebounds (12.9).
Little has changed in the postseason.
The Pacers have again been stingy yielding points and are ranked No. 1 in rebounds (46.9), No. 1 in offensive rebounds (11.9) and have a staggering rebounding differential of plus-9.8. Miami is second-best at 5.7.
“We understand they’re supposedly a great defensive basketball team,” Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony said. “They try to keep the game in the high-80s, mid-80s and they want a half-court offense. We understand that. I don’t think it’s nothing too complicated that them guys are doing.”
The problem isn’t dissecting what Indiana does -- it’s figuring out how to deal with it.
Teams that like to run or don’t like the hands-on treatment Indiana prefers often find themselves getting out of sync or out of sorts.
Atlanta spent most of its first-round series complaining about the officials’ calls or lack thereof even though coach Larry Drew continually urged his players to become tougher. Instead, they grew increasingly frustrated and players such as Jeff Teague and Al Horford wound up getting hit with uncharacteristic technical fouls as Josh Smith struggled to find his groove.
“We just totally lost our composure,” Drew said after a Game 5 loss.
Indiana then clinched the series with a Game 6 win in Atlanta.
New York got a firsthand look at how tough life can be against the Pacers in Game 1 of this series.
Like the Hawks, the Knicks were frustrated by Indiana’s in-your-face defense and the officials’ calls or non-calls, and like Atlanta, it made a huge difference. Indiana held a 44-30 advantage on the glass and wound up with a 102-95 win in the series’ opener, stealing home-court advantage from the second-seeded Knicks.
Anthony, for one, didn’t buy it.
“It’s like Coach (Mike) Woodson said and I agree with him, they beat us on the glass, they beat us to the loose basketballs out there, the hustle plays, and they outworked us,” Anthony said. “I don’t think that had anything do with being more physical.”
The Pacers style can take a toll.
Smith struggled for most of the first-round series and now Anthony’s shooting percentages are down slightly in this semifinal series. He’s shooting 42.9 percent from the field and is 3 of 9 on 3-pointers compared 44.9 percent shooting and 37.9 percent on 3s during the regular season. Anthony also has missed more shots in the playoffs (130) than all but two players have attempted (Kevin Durant, 170; Stephen Curry, 164).
J.R. Smith has been even worse. The NBA’s sixth man of the year is connecting on just 34 percent of his shots in the playoffs and is a dismal 7 of 30 in the playoffs.
The Knicks are hoping the expected return of Amare Stoudemire will help. But Stoudemire hasn’t played since undergoing right knee surgery two months ago and will be limited to no more than 15 minutes, Woodson said Thursday.
And the Pacers aren’t about to change their philosophy now after winning 49 regular-season games, five more in the playoffs and starting the postseason 3-0 at home.
Indiana figures if it can control the tempo, the paint and the glass with its physical play, it can put any team on its heels.
“I think teams just try to play to their identity,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said.
“When we’re playing well, we’re tough to beat. We share the basketball, we defend, we rebound, and they have to try to respond in some way.”