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Knicks-Pacers preview: Is it winning time for New York? Indiana won’t be an easy out

May 6th, 2024

The Eastern Conference’s No. 2 seed, the New York Knicks (50-32), will take on the sixth-seeded Indiana Pacers (47-35) in the 2024 Eastern Conference semifinals. The two franchises last met in the postseason in 2013, when the Pacers eliminated the Knicks in a six-game series perhaps best known for a towering block that now lives in places of prominence in Roy Hibbert’s abode.

A couple of decades before that, New York and Indiana used to meet in the playoffs all the time. This guy named Reggie showed up a lot. They made a documentary about it.

By sticking to the script.

The Knicks won 50 games for the first time in 11 years by adhering to a simple formula: control the offensive glass, limit turnovers and turn 50-50 balls into 70-30 balls through the application of relentless physicality. And, when you need a bucket, let Jalen Brunson cook.

That game plan earned them the East’s No. 2 spot, and with it, a matchup against Joel Embiid, Tyrese Maxey and the 76ers — not exactly your typical No. 7 seed. The result was a first-round classic that had everything: superstar performances, dramatic last-second comebacks, flagrant fouls, hostile takeovers, chicken promotions, you name it.

After 13 grueling days, the Round 1 slugfest ended with New York’s hand raised, outpacing Philly by one measly point over the span of six games. How’d the Knicks do it? Well, there’s a simple formula.

They controlled the offensive glass, recovering nearly 36% of their own misses (better than their own league-leading regular-season mark). They limited turnovers, coughing it up on just 11.8% of their offensive possessions (which would’ve led the league this season). They turned 50-50 balls into 70-30 balls through the application of relentless physicality, leading Round 1 in loose balls recovered per game, and finishing second in both fast-break points and transition scoring efficiency.

And when they needed a bucket, they gave it to their superstar.

After the Sixers limited him to 46 points on 16-for-55 shooting in Games 1 and 2, Brunson exploded for 167 points over the final four, with 41 assists against 11 turnovers. He delivered the coup de grâce in Game 6, scoring or directly setting up 21 points in the fourth quarter — including an ice-in-his-veins runner with 53.6 seconds to go and a drive-and-kick for a massive 3-pointer by Josh Hart a half-minute later — to push the Knicks across the finish line and into Round 2.

It’s a simple formula. When it’s gotten you this far, it’s one worth sticking to.

By taking advantage of a golden opportunity.

The Pacers don’t have to apologize for Giannis Antetokounmpo straining his calf two weeks before the postseason, or Damian Lillard straining his Achilles early in his third playoff game as a Buck. You can only play the competition in front of you, and when Milwaukee began to wobble — well, more than it already had during its under-.500 run under Doc Rivers — then Rick Carlisle’s Pacers pounced, with aggressive full-court defensive pressure and a many-hands-make-light-work approach on the other end.

A Milwaukee defense that was mediocre-at-best all season with Giannis didn’t have a prayer of bottling up Indiana without him. The Pacers pressed their advantage, topping 30 assists and 120 points four times in six games — they won all four — en route to scoring a scorching 121.7 points per 100 possessions in the series, right in line with their No. 2 regular-season mark.

The Pacers took different paths to arrive at those crooked numbers. Early in the series, with Milwaukee intent on pressuring Haliburton so that he couldn’t operate with impunity, Pascal Siakam showed why Indiana swung so hard for him before the trade deadline, scoring 73 points on 48 shots in the first two games — a walking mismatch against a Milwaukee team that, with Antetokounmpo in street clothes, didn’t have anybody capable of handling him straight up.

When the Bucks shifted tactics, sending more attention and double-teams Siakam’s way, the Pacers returned the favor by raining fire. In Game 4, pick-and-pop monster Myles Turner (7-for-9 from deep) and a finally-breaking-loose Haliburton (5-for-12) led the charge to a franchise-playoff-record 22 3-pointers:

The pathway wasn’t always pretty, though. Indiana blew a 19-point lead in the second half of Game 3; saw Khris Middleton, balky ankle and all, hit an absurd triple to force overtime; and needed a Haliburton game-winner to escape with a victory and retain the home-court advantage they’d stolen in Game 2:

With a chance to close it out in five, they let a Bucks team without Antetokounmpo or Lillard shoot 52% from the floor, rebound more than 36% of their own misses, and get the previously free-flowing Pacers stuck in the mud with aggressive switching at the point of attack and cross-matches (like Middleton guarding Turner while goliath center Brook Lopez shifted over to swingman Aaron Nesmith). The result: a Game 5 stinker in which Indiana trailed by 20-plus for much of the second half.

It proved to be a detour rather than a derailment, though. Despite the return of Lillard from his Achilles strain, the Pacers took control of Game 6 with a 21-6 run midway through the first quarter and never looked back, riding their superior depth — six Pacers in double figures, led by a combined 41 points off the bench from Obi Toppin and TJ McConnell — to the franchise’s first playoff series win in a decade … and a date with their old friends from New York.

The Pacers won the season series, 2-1, though roster changes and injury absences muddle the takeaways from those three contests a fair bit.

The Knicks didn’t have OG Anunoby or Mitchell Robinson in any of the three contests. Haliburton was playing on a minutes restriction after coming off of a strained hamstring when the Knicks got their lone win; he didn’t play in the fourth quarter of that game. Evan Fournier was involved; Taj Gibson played rotation minutes in two games, and even started one, alongside Precious Achiuwa, in a frontline that’s got a bit less juice than the one the Knicks are likely to run out in Round 2.

In the last days of 2023, the Pacers hung 140 on the Knicks in Indianapolis. Four Pacers topped 20 points, headlined by a 22-point, 23-assist performance by Haliburton — a new career high in helpers for the NBA’s top assist man:

The two teams faced off twice between their respective big-swing trades with Toronto and the All-Star break, with Brunson popping for 40 in a Knicks win on Feb. 1 …

… and Haliburton getting the upper hand against an injury-wracked Knicks squad 10 days later, highlighted by some audacious shot creation at MSG:

That sort of creativity and high-octane offensive efficiency gave New York massive problems during the regular season: Indiana scored a scorching 134.8 points per 100 possessions against the Knicks with Haliburton on the floor. If Tom Thibodeau and Co. can’t find a way to put some restrictor plates on Indiana’s All-Star point guard, the hot-rod Pacers could wind up running roughshod over the favorites.

(Speaking of restrictor plates and running: Which team controls the tempo should be one of this series’ biggest bellwethers. Haliburton’s Pacers were second in the NBA in offensive possessions per 48 minutes this season, and had the league’s lowest average time to shot, according to Inpredictable; Indy looks to launch quick. Brunson’s Knicks, on the other hand: dead last in both categories. If the Pacers can put the show on speed, a Knicks squad that really only went seven-deep in Round 1 after Bojan Bogdanović’s injury might need more reinforcements to keep up. Paging Alec Burks?)

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 22: OG Anunoby #8 of the New York Knicks looks on during the game against the Philadelphia 76ers in Game Two of the Eastern Conference First Round Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on April 22, 2024 in New York City. The Knicks won 104-101. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

OG Anunoby’s defense will be key for New York. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

Anunoby vs. … wait, who is he going to guard?

I know, I know: I should probably just say, “Brunson vs. Haliburton: Battle of the All-Star Point Guards!” But I think that where Thibodeau decides to station his top perimeter destroyer is maybe the most interesting wrinkle on the board at the start of this series.

As I mentioned earlier, the Knicks didn’t have Anunoby in any of the three regular-season matchups. Considering he played 250 of a possible 293 minutes in Round 1, it’s a pretty good bet that he’ll also play an outsized role in Round 2. But where?

Anunoby opened the Philly series checking Tyrese Maxey, who shot just 6-for-16 when they were matched up, but had some trouble containing the lightning-quick Sixers lead guard (as did basically every Knick). Later, Thibodeau switched the matchups, sliding Donte DiVincenzo onto Maxey and moving Anunoby over to lower-usage, lower-wattage wings like Tobias Harris and Kelly Oubre Jr. — assignments that allowed him to roam as a help defender and secondary rim protector, which proved really disruptive to Philly’s offense: The Sixers shot 11-for-30 (36.7%) inside of 6 feet when Anunoby was the nearest defender, according to’s shot tracking data, and just 6-for-18 when he contested at the basket, according to Second Spectrum.

If we assume that Brunson opens on Andrew Nembhard and center Isaiah Hartenstein takes opposite number Myles Turner, that leaves the three wing spots — Hart, DiVincenzo and Anunoby — to slot in. Does Thibodeau again start with OG as the tip of the spear aimed at the opponent’s most dangerous on-ball threat — in this case, Haliburton, who’s bigger than Maxey and not as speedy, with his quicks dampened at least a bit from their early-season peak by the hamstring issue? Or does he try to match size-for-size, lining Anunoby up against his old Raptors teammate Siakam in hopes of preventing the kind of hot start to the series for Siakam that wound up bedeviling the Bucks?

The Knicks need to throw some sand in the gears of the Pacers’ smooth-operating offensive machine — or, better yet, just smash it. OG is his best chance of doing it; it’ll be interesting to see which assignment he thinks gives New York the best chance of putting great big dents into Indiana’s offense.

Myles Turner

We just saw Turner absolutely torch the Bucks’ drop coverage, shooting 18-for-41 (43.9%) from 3-point range in the six-game victory over Milwaukee, headlined by his 7-for-9 performance in Game 4. Know who Turner was playing the first time he made seven triples in a game?

You guessed it:

While today’s Knicks are not the Knicks of three years ago, they do play two centers — Hartenstein and Mitchell Robinson — whom Thibodeau prefers to deploy as rim protectors first, second and third. And when you station your bigs deep in the paint, you leave yourself open to getting picked apart by the pick-and-pop; in a related story, Turner averaged 18.7 points in 28.6 minutes per game against the Knicks this season, shooting 21-for-32 (65.6%) from the floor and 8-for-10 from 3-point range.

If Turner gets a couple to go early, will Thibodeau continue to stick with the drop and live with the Pacers prioritizing those above-the-break launches? If not, how will he decide to switch it up — by hard-rotating a third defender into the play off the wing to try to run Turner off the line, by cross-matching to put a wing on Turner and his center on someone like Nesmith? Could this be an opportunity to dust off the more switchable and athletic Precious Achiuwa, who’s relegated to third center duty with Robinson healthy, but who shined when pressed into duty against Embiid in Round 1?

Whatever answers Thibodeau test-drives, Turner’s got the skillset to make the Knicks pay, and he’s playing with a ton of confidence. If he gets hot and opens the floor up for Haliburton, Nembhard, T.J. McConnell and the rest of Indiana’s penetrators, New York could have an awfully tough time cooling things down.

Knicks in 7

I think those predicting a quick Knicks victory are underestimating just how severe a set of problems this Indiana offense — replete with shooters, adept at slamming the pedal to the metal, with an all-world orchestrator and multiple other high-quality complementary ball-handlers — might be able to create for New York. But I do buy the argument that, in the styles-make-fights setting of a playoff series, the overwhelming physicality that the Knicks bring to bear — especially now that Anunoby and Robinson are in the fold, which they weren’t during the regular-season series — will wind up grinding the glitter off of Indiana’s bright young things, and land New York in the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 2000.

New York Knicks (-275)
Indiana Pacers (+225)

Game 1: Mon., May 6 @ New York (7:30 p.m., TNT)
Game 2: Wed., May 8 @ New York (8 p.m., TNT)
Game 3: Fri., May 10 @ Indiana (7 p.m., ESPN)
Game 4: Sun., May 12 @ Indiana (3:30 p.m., ABC)
*Game 5: Tue., May 14 @ New York (time TBD, TNT)
*Game 6: Fri., May 17 @ Indiana (time TBD, ESPN)
*Game 7: Sun., May 19 @ New York (time and network TBD)

*if necessary

This content was originally sourced and posted at Yahoo! Sports – News, Scores, Standings, Rumors, Fantasy Games »
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