How high-octane Pacers overwhelmed Knicks in Game 4, setting up daunting task for exhausted New York roster



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The last time the New York Knicks appeared to have any life on Sunday, there were five and a half minutes left in the second quarter. Sure, they were trailing 49-27, but Jalen Brunson had just taken handsy Indiana Pacers wing Aaron Nesmith off the dribble and made a lefty layup. For the first time in Game 4 of their second-round series, they’d scored on three consecutive possessions.

Immediately, though, the Pacers sprinted down the court. Tyrese Haliburton ran a side pick-and-roll and bounced a pocket pass to Andrew Nembhard. Myles Turner screened Obi Toppin open in the corner, and Nembhard set him up for a 3.

Brunson went at Nesmith again on the next possession, but his stepback 2, like many of his jumpers, was short. Indiana got the board and zoomed the other way, forcing Knicks big man Precious Achiuwa to pick up Haliburton. Haliburton pitched the ball to Turner, got it back and went into a “Spain” pick-and-roll. Achiuwa and Brunson got their wires crossed, and Nembhard wound up with a wide-open 3.

On the ESPN broadcast, analyst JJ Redick praised the Pacers for their spacing and movement. These are the type of plays that demoralized New York on Sunday, and they’re the type plays that confused opposing teams all year long, allowing Indiana to score 120.5 points per 100 possessions, the second-most efficient offensive season NBA history. 

During the regular season, and especially as the Pacers advanced to the inaugural In-Season Tournament championship game, it became clear that Indiana was the type of team that could beat anybody. The Pacers run hard, run off makes and run their halfcourt offense with a particular urgency. Everything that they do is designed to create confusion, and they capitalize on the smallest mistakes. Even when their defense was absolutely atrocious, which it was for months, they were the last team you’d want to face if you were at the end of a road trip or on a back-to-back. And Sunday’s 121-89 shellacking of the Knicks, dubbed the “Mother’s Day massacre” by announcer Mike Breen, showed that they’re also the last team you want to face if you’re depleted and exhausted.

It was already apparent, based on how New York fell apart down the stretch in Game 3 on Friday, that Tom Thibodeau’s “Toughness Express” might be breaking down. The Knicks, who have been compensating for the absence of All-Star forward Julius Randle since late January, ruled out forward Bojan Bogdanovic for the season during the first round and center Mitchell Robinson after the series opener. They managed to overcome Brunson hurting his foot and OG Anunoby straining his hamstring in Game 2, but, at a certain point, the injuries — and the heavy minutes that the starters have been playing — must catch up. Anunoby hasn’t played since then, and Brunson followed up his 26-points-on-26-shots performance in Game 3 with 18 points on 6-for-17 shooting on Sunday.

“I thought we were slow to the ball,” Thibodeau told reporters postgame. “And usually, we’re very quick to the ball. So that’s the biggest thing.”

Indiana started the game on a 34-11 run. A couple of minutes into the second quarter, the Pacers’ 19 bench points equaled New York’s total points. Thibodeau called Haliburton (20 points, 8-for-15 shooting, five assists, six rebounds, zero turnovers) “an offense unto himself,” a phrase he has used multiple times in the past week, but said that “a compilation of things” make the Pacers dangerous, including the playmaking of jitterbug T.J. McConnell, who finished with 15 points, 10 assists and two steals in 21 minutes.

Haliburton told reporters that “there’s not many people in the NBA” better at bringing energy than McConnell.

“At times he might look at me like, ‘Oh, you got it,'” Haliburton said. “I want him to run, so I can kick it ahead, so he can get downhill. But his energy is just contagious and everybody just flows off of that.”

McConnell was the most aggressive player on the floor on Sunday. When Indiana ran its “Spain” pick-and-roll late in the first quarter, and Donte DiVincenzo switched onto him, it looked as if New York had the play contained … until he spun around, drove right and then finished with his left hand before any help defenders could react:

Halfway through the third, McConnell’s spin move struck again. This is a lot for Brunson to handle, on top of everything he has to do on offense: 

Following the blowout victory, Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said that New York “has an indomitable will to compete and rise above anything people say they can’t do,” refusing to entertain that notion that they’d tired the Knicks out. Last week, though, Haliburton said that they were aware of the minutes their opponents were logging, they felt they were the “deepest team in the league” and they were “trying to wear on these guys as much as we can for a seven-game series.” Whether or not Indiana is being intentional about putting this kind of pressure on New York, though, is immaterial. The Pacers were the league’s fastest team this season. This is who they are.

If there is a silver lining for the Knicks, it’s that, since the game was so one-sided, Brunson played only 31 minutes and Josh Hart, against all odds, played only 24. This is by no means how they wanted to get extra rest before the series shifts back to Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, but, the way things played out in Indiana, maybe it’s what they needed. Indiana surely isn’t about to slow down.





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