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Knicks vs. Pacers second-round preview and prediction for 2024 NBA playoffs

May 5th, 2024

After a neck-and-neck six-game series, the Knicks advanced past the Philadelphia 76ers to move onto the second round of the playoffs for the second consecutive year. Their opposition in pursuit of the Conference Finals is the Indiana Pacers, fresh off a six-game series win over the Milwaukee Bucks without star Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Unlike Philly, this will be more of a clash of styles, as New York prefers to play at a slower pace, while Indiana wants to run track meets. The good news for the Knicks is they’re facing less star power, going up against two All-Stars instead of one and a reigning MVP.

The two teams met twice after their midseason shake-up trades, a 1-1 split at Madison Square Garden that didn’t include OG Anunoby or Mitchell Robinson. Without much reliance on their regular season games, projecting this series won’t be cut and dry, but let’s dive in.

Guarding Jalen Brunson

As with any Knicks matchup, stopping or slowing down Brunson will be a top priority for the opponents. Like with Philly, expect Indy – flush with big guards and wings – to throw their larger defenders at him.

Aaron Nesmith standing at 6-foot-6 and 215 pounds with a seven-foot wingspan will likely open on Brunson. Indy’s 6-foot-5 backcourt of Tyrese Haliburton and Andrew Nembhard will also get their chances, as well as Knick killer and general on-court annoyance TJ McConnell.

Brunson hasn’t had much trouble scoring on these guys in the regular season. He put up 28 points on 22 shots in the first game, his worst of the season, followed by efficient 40 and 39-point performances.

Guarded by Nesmith, Brunson scored 29 points on 12-of-18 shooting in under 10 minutes, however, he struggled from the field against Haliburton and Nembhard, who also have size advantages but can better match Brunson’s speed.

The individual matchups won’t matter as much as the team schemes. Indiana will likely try shading off Josh Hart to send Brunson an extra defender, much like Philadelphia did, and New York will need Hart to make plays and shots like he did last series.

In theory, the Pacers are more switchable against Brunson and would live with him constantly isolating against Pascal Siakam or Myles Turner. Even if that works, Brunson will turn to his target basketball and get whatever match-up he prefers, and both teams will need to adjust from there.

Indiana Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton (0) drives to the basket against New York Knicks center Isaiah Hartenstein (55) and guard Donte DiVincenzo (0) during the first quarter at Madison Square Garden

Styles make fights

The identities of these two teams are pretty embedded at this point, and with both falling on opposite ends of the basketball spectrum, whoever’s game gets played will likely emerge victorious.

New York is a slow, grind-you-down and beat-you-with-metal bats team that defends well and makes up for their offensive limitations by winning the possession game via offensive rebounds and low turnovers. Indiana is constantly pushing the pace and wants to space you out and kill you with offense, with little resistance on the other end.

Both have built-in advantages. The Pacers finished the regular season 24th in defensive rating, 26th in defensive rebound percentage, and 19th in opponent turnover rate, all suggesting that if the Knicks’ defense holds up they should find enough offense to win easily.

On the flip side, New York misses a ton of shots, which will lead to many transition opportunities for Indiana. The Knicks’ defense can also struggle against five-out teams like the Pacers, who boast a starting frontcourt that shoots 36.4 percent from three.

This series may very well come down to these simple things both teams have done all season but need to solidify this round. Can the Knicks keep their turnovers low and abuse the Pacers on the boards, or will Indiana punish them for every missed shot and overwhelm them with their youth and athleticism?

Slowing the Pace(rs)

Indiana finished with the second-best offense of the season and has kept that pace in the postseason, albeit against a shaky Bucks defense. The Knicks will have more weapons to throw at them, but there are still a ton of unknowns.

For one, how do the Knicks match up? Anunoby is their Swiss army knife that guarded everybody from Tyrese Maxey to Joel Embiid in the last series, and we’ll likely see him deployed similarly this time.

His natural slot is on Siakam, who cooked Milwaukee with 36 and 37 points in Games 1 and 2. He’s had plenty of time to guard him in Toronto Raptors practices, but none yet in the course of NBA action, so this will be an interesting head-to-head to watch.

That leaves Isaiah Hartenstein guarding Turner, who will be stationed beyond the three-point arc to pull New York’s rim protection out of the paint. The Knicks will likely live with this until it burns them, at which point they have some options.

They can try hiding Hartenstein on Nesmith or another non-shooting perimeter threat, making Turner have to post up Hart to turn an advantage. They can also put Hartenstein on Siakam and Anunoby on Turner, so the rim is protected and OG can easily help and recover with his speed.

It will probably be defense-by-committee on Haliburton, whose offensive danger largely comes from his passing ability. We could see Anunoby on him if he shakes too loose, perhaps in combination with a center on Siakam to shut down that pet play.

Like in the first round, don’t expect the Knicks to be consistent in their approach. Tom Thibodeau made Philly’s stars uncomfortable in the biggest moments of the series with defensive adjustments and will try to do the same here.

One thing going in the Knicks’ favor is Indy’s lack of shooting. Only Nembhard and Turner had strong outings from deep last round, so if they can corral the paint and force the ball into poor shooters’ hands, they could have an edge there.

Prediction

No postseason foe should be overlooked or dismissed, but the Knicks have the parts to go to war with close to a legitimate contender and MVP-level player. The Pacers should pale in comparison.

Knicks in 5.

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