Undeterred by adversity, the Knicks cook the Pacers in critical Game ...

25 days ago
Knicks guard Jalen Brunson salutes the home crowd at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night as he scored 44 points in a 121-91 win over the Indiana Pacers in Game 5 in their Eastern Conference semifinals matchup. Credit: (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

The Knicks are in denial. Or have wired their collective psyches to be oblivious to adversity.They have been unfazed and undeterred by a depletion of their lineup due to injuries. A thumping by the Indiana Pacers on Sunday in hostile territory was an aberration. The Knicks were run out of Indianapolis by an urgent opponent, losing 121-89 in Game 4 of their best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinals series.

Knicks - Figure 1
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It could have been a sign that attrition was overtaking a team that has demonstrated steadfast resolve this postseason. Playing without Julius Randle, OG Anunoby, Mitchell Robinson and Bojan Bogdanovic, they have found a way to soldier on. Yet the Game 4 defeat, which tied the series at 2-2 coming back for Game 5 at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, was a disquieting alarm.

But dismantling obstacles has been one of the defining qualities of the current iteration of the No. 2 seed Knicks. They flipped the score in Game 5, tactically and forcefully taking apart the No. 6 Pacers by 121-91 to go up 3-2 with Game 6 tomorrow in Indiana. A victory would advance the Knicks to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2000, when they fell to the Pacers 4-2.  

“We still need one more win so we can’t get too excited about it,” Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau emphasized. “We have to understand what we need to do [and] stay focused on the task at hand.”

As he has done all season, Knicks guard Jalen Brunson was a force multiplier, shrugging off a sore foot, injured late in the first quarter of Game 2, and a combined 16-43 shooting in Games 3 and 4, to score 44 points on 18-35 from the field.

“I think as a team, no matter what the situation is, we have the same mindset no matter what,” Brunson said in a measured assessment. “And regardless of how I’m feeling or someone else is feeling, we know what’s at stake. We know what we have to do and we’re going to figure it out.”

The Pacers, like the rest of the league, have not devised a code or algorithm to breach Brunson’s sheer will. Still, Knicks contributions spanned the lineup. As usual, Josh Hart was an energizer, posting 18 points and 11 rebounds. Deuce McBride, who started the second half of Game 4 and was installed as a starter by Thiboeau in place of Precious Achiuwa on Tuesday, responded with 17.

Guard Alec Burks, whose playing time was completely cut late in the regular season, has been called upon by necessity with Anunoby sidelined by a left hamstring injury sustained in Game 2. The 32-year-old veteran answered the charge with 18 points. And center Isaiah Hartenstein left a deep imprint on the win with seven points and 17 rebounds, including a massive 12 offensive rebounds, as the Knicks owned the backboards 53-29 in total. 

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