By Charlie Widdoes (Twitter)
Pacers coach Frank Vogel called his team’s performance at the free throw line in Game 5 “encouraging.” With a chance to close out the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, Indy made only 19 of 33 (58%) of its attempts, but in his opinion, it’s correctable.
“We make our free throws, it’s a different ballgame.” Perhaps.
While Thursday was a series low for the Pacers, it also continued a disturbing trend for Indiana fans: They've shoot worse from the charity stripe than the Knicks in each of the five games so far. And they’ve done so while taking more free throws in four of the five games, outshooting the Knicks, 130 to 89, for the series.
And yet, their inefficiency in this area leaves them heading back to Indy, needing a win tomorrow night to prevent their disaster scenario: a Game 7 back at the Garden.
Depending on your perspective, Indy’s relative struggles from the line are either a sign that they should have won this series by now or that the Knicks could be primed for a comeback if they can get a few more shots to drop. What’s clear is that it’s had an impact on the series; in the Knicks’ two wins, the Pacers have shot 61 and 58 percent from the line.
A frustrated David West spoke to the importance of cashing in on the freebies, and hinted that maybe the issue isn’t as easily fixed as his coach might think. The struggles were due to “guys not concentrating,” he suggested. “We talked about it (Thursday) morning – we need every single point and we just left too many points out there…That’s just not focusing and stepping up to the plate.”
Indeed, despite being up 3-2, the Pacers wouldn’t appear to have much margin for error. They lead the series because they’ve played their game, limiting the Knicks’ offense to lower-quality looks and scoring just enough to get by. But as we saw in Game 5, anything short of their peak performance leaves them vulnerable.
What happens if George Hill has to sit out Game 6? What happens if the Knicks offense, ranked 3rd in the NBA in efficiency, even approaches its regular season level? And what if they keep going to the line, rather than converting post touches from West and Roy Hibbert into baskets?
As an adjustment, the actual free throws are secondary. For Indy, more important is “concentrating,” if what West says is accurate.
For the Knicks, their main concern is continuing to get their offense untracked. But if it comes down to it, there could be an advantage to be exploited in sending certain Pacers to the line. With Lance Stephenson shooting 65% from the line this season and often-used Ian Mahinmi shooting 61%, the Knicks can play aggressive D and live with the consequences.