Knicks Look To Eliminate Pacers With Road Win in Game 6

Victory sends New York to its first Eastern Conference Finals since 2000.

AP/Frank Franklin II
The Knicks' Jalen Brunson gestures to fans after making a three-pointer during the second half of Game 5 against the Pacers, May 14, 2024, at New York. AP/Frank Franklin II

Two games to win one: That’s the reality of the New York Knicks in the playoff series with the Indiana Pacers. The Knicks need to win one more game to clinch the best-of-seven series and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2000, though nobody is looking past Game 6 Friday night at Indianapolis.

“We still need one more,” coach Tom Thibodeau said Tuesday night after the Knicks dominated the Pacers 121-91 at Madison Square Garden to take a 3-2 lead in the series. “We have to understand what we need to do and stay focused on the task at hand.”

None of it makes sense. The shorthanded Knicks were blown out 121-89 in Game 4 in Indiana Sunday night before returning the favor before a raucous crowd at the Garden. Jalen Brunson scored 44 points, and the Knicks out-rebounded the Pacers 53-29 to retain home-court advantage.

In addition to Mr. Brunson, who scored at least 40 points for the fifth time in the postseason, the Knicks got production from center Isaiah Hartenstein, who had 17 rebounds, including 12 on the offensive end, while Deuce McBride got a rare start and responded with 17 points. The Knicks defense held the Pacers to 43.1 percent shooting.

“Our defense was good, the rebounding was good, taking care of the basketball was good, and that’s what we have to do,” Mr. Thibodeau said. “But we’re going to have to be better in the next one.” 

The beauty and challenge of the NBA playoffs is that the only thing to expect is the unexpected. The Knicks were awful in Game 4. The Pacers were equally awful in Game 5.  Coach Rick Carlisle of the Pacers called his team’s performance “very embarrassing, and a hard lesson.”

He added, “They turned their pressure up and our pressure was non-existent. We failed on many levels. We have to make some serious adjustments for Game 6.”

The biggest adjustment is the change of venue. The home team has won every game in this series, a pattern the Knicks need to break if they’re going to avoid a Game 7 at the Garden. “They did what they’re supposed to do and now it’s time for us to go home and do what we’re supposed to do,” a Pacers guard, Tyrese Haliburton, who was limited to 13 points Tuesday night, said. “We’ve got to be ready for Game 6 and I have no doubt we’ll be ready.”

The Knicks looked like a tired and bruised team on Sunday night. OG Anunoby, who is out with a hamstring injury, adds to a lengthy injury list. Yet, the shorthanded Knicks keep finding ways to win games with hustle and resiliency.

“This is our way,” Mr. Thibodeau said. “We have to play hard as heck on every possession. And we know if we defend, rebound, and take care of the basketball, we have a good chance to win.”

The Knicks coach said his team was “in the mud” in Game 4 and will need to avoid lethargy to win on the road in Game 6. Both teams enjoy their first two-day break in the series courtesy of Caitlin Clark and the Indiana Fever, who are making their home debut at Gainbridge Fieldhouse at Indianapolis on Thursday night.

Come Friday, the Pacers are playing in front of their home crowd to save their season. The Knicks know they will face a desperate team. “One game does not have any effect on the next,” Mr. Brunson said. “It’s all about how we prepare for Game 6. I expect my teammates to be ready to go for Game 6, and I expect [the Pacers] to be ready to go for Game 6.  It’s going to be two teams that are ready to play.”

Josh Hart, who had 18 points and 11 rebounds for the Knicks on Tuesday night, knows the environment will be hostile in Game 6. “We’re going to their spot and they play with tremendous energy there,” he said. “They knock down shots and the crowd is into it. We have to be ready.”

Mr. Thibodeau, whose NBA coaching career began as an assistant with the Minnesota Timberwolves in 1989, normally has a grumpy face. Yet a smile crept across his face thinking about the unpredictability of the playoffs. “It’s great competition,” Mr. Thibodeau said. “That’s what you love about the playoffs. In every game, there’s a lot of give and take and guys are competing really hard. I think it’s enjoyable for everyone.”

The New York Sun

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