Breaking down the 9-0 Pacers run that lost the game for the Knicks

Michael DeStefano played basketball at the high school and college level, trained and coached AAU throughout Westchester, and has worked as a certified referee all over the New York metro area. He makes his Film School debut on the Pacers 9-0 run last night.


It used to be the third quarter.  At least that has improved.

In four close losses, it’s the fourth quarter that’s been the problem.  And while there has been some bad luck – Tatum turning two consecutive broken plays into buckets, a Bogdanovic airball-turned-hockey-assist for the dagger – and more bad defense, neither of those is most responsible for the Knicks’ inability to close games.

The offense is the issue, and you need to look no further than last night’s game-changing 9-0 run for confirmation.

NY held a 97-94 lead with 2:59 to go.  Domantas Sabonis made two FTs, and the Knicks took possession up 1.

Hardaway should not be the primary PnR ball-handler at this stage of the game.

Oladipo is an excellent defender who had just picked his dribble and leaked for an easy bucket only four minutes prior to this play, and Tim’s strength is not his handle. Plus, he’d been scorching hot playing off the ball – five of his seven threes were catch-and-shoot jumpers as a result of other ball-handlers forcing Oladipo into help (or halfway) situations.

In crucial late-game situations, the offense needs to see more of Hardaway off the ball, getting him looks through some of those nice staggered actions they’ve been running, or simply through someone else creating drive-and-kick opportunities.

With that said, they could’ve made something out of the play highlighted above. We won’t know if the fault’s with Vonleh or Coach Fizdale’s system, but that screen needs to be set. Instead, Vonleh slips, Oladipo beats Hardaway to his spot, and the rest is history.

Hardaway had exploited switches all night, and even if they don’t switch, a hard screen frees him up for anything he wants (Kanter had set a solid screen on Oladipo in the third, knocking him to the ground and freeing Tim for his sixth triple – that’s what you need here).

The Knicks work a lot of slips and soft screens into their offense, but if you’re going to close out games, you need to play situational basketball. And in that situation, Oladipo needs to feel the screen.

97-98, 2:43 left

Again, they run basic offense. Nothing special to execute. It goes nowhere. From a philosophical standpoint, this is fine: some coaches just want their players to run what’s worked all night (though you can argue: they had only scored 14 in the fourth to this point, so was it really working?), and while a young team might benefit from something concrete drawn up in a big spot, this is a perfectly acceptable way to run your offense.

What’s not perfectly acceptable is Lance Thomas being on the floor.

We thought Fiz had seen the light with Lance only playing 9 minutes vs. Brooklyn, but last night he was back up to 16 and on the floor in key moments. We cannot blame Lance for taking that shot, or for the fact that Thaddeus Young closed high and anyone with a left hand would’ve taken the entire baseline and either finished at the rim or drawn a foul. He’s simply not capable, so the blame has to fall on the coach.

Why is he in the game?  You can’t tell me defense – we gave up 30 in the fourth and got murdered inside all night. You can’t tell me matchups – even if Lance is the ideal matchup for Young (who low-key killed us), we were switching the entire game. And you can’t tell me he’d played well – he was the Knick to play less than 20 minutes and still have a negative +/-.

Fiz himself realized the error, just one play too late.

97-100, 1:55 left

Out of a timeout, with Trier in for Thomas, the Knicks struggle to get the ball inbounds.  After finally doing so, a standard dribble handoff between Frank and Tim leads to another Tim-as-ball-handler / Vonleh-as-screener scenario.

Once again, no screen is set. Fizdale actually talked about this play in the postgame, saying the Knicks ran the wrong play out of the timeout.

Having run the wrong play, Tim resets with 13 seconds on the shot-clock and, with the entire paint wide open, settles for a deep contested three-pointer.

Tim played a great game, but he deserves blame here. Once the drawn up play didn’t happen, he still had plenty of time to make a pass, which could lead to another pass, which could lead to another pass, which could lead to either something better or the same exact shot. And if he’s not going to move the ball, he could’ve worked for a better shot. But this is Bad Timmy, the one who takes horrible shots, and this one came at the worst possible time.

If we look deeper into the decision, though, it actually says something positive about his self-awareness as a basketball player. Even he knows putting the ball on the floor against an All-NBA defender in this situation is a recipe for disaster, which is why we come back to the execution as a whole, which we found out after the game, simply requires the Knicks to follow instructions out of the timeout huddle.

Oladipo would cap the Pacers late 9-0 run with a three of his own on the next possession, and even though Indy still needed some luck/lack of defensive awareness to get out of MSG with a win, the three possessions highlighted above was where the game was lost.

Every close defeat to this point has seen stretches, or even single crucial individual possessions, like the ones above. This is why the team is 2-6, and not 5-3. It’s not for lack of effort, and it’s not even for lack of talent, despite having three key players sidelined.

No, the reason the Knicks are meeting expectations instead of being the early surprise of the NBA season is their inability to play and execute situational basketball when it matters most.

Make sure to follow Mike on Twitter!


  1. Excellent analysis I hope Fizdale reads this because this is /was the solution and Yes THJ should not be the primary ball handler AT ALL! and yes we don’t want to see Lance ever again his so called defensive skilled are massive hype which Hornacek even saw through


    1. I love Lance’s effort. But he is only an OK defender and a liability on offense. By the start of next season, the following players need to be gone; Thomas, Kanter, Lee, Baker. They should be able to get assets for Kanter and Lee if they play their cards right.


  2. This analysis made me re-think that yeah that maybe we do need to see Mudiay in the game as he the teams best ball handler and yes we don’t want THJ handling the ball in crucial moments when he doesn’t need to!


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