Home Sports Battered Knicks outpaced in Indiana. Will they have enough for Game 7 in Madison Square Garden?

Battered Knicks outpaced in Indiana. Will they have enough for Game 7 in Madison Square Garden?

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New York Knicks guard Jalen Brunson (11) drives to the basket past Indiana Pacers forward Obi Toppin, left, during the first half of Game 6 in a second-round basketball playoff series of the NBA, on Friday, May 17, 2024, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

INDIANAPOLIS – Josh Hart does almost everything on the basketball court except ask to be taken off the basketball court. He has recorded four complete games in the Knicks’ first 11 postseason matchups, and yet, with New York perhaps on the brink of its first Eastern Conference finals appearance since 2000, the alarming sight of Hart moving toward the bench, with his left hand cupping his rib area, he arrived just over five minutes into the first quarter Friday night.

“Obviously, something must have been wrong,” Knicks All-Star guard Jalen Brunson said.

Hart retreated to the corner of the visiting team’s bench inside Gainbridge Fieldhouse, standing and conferring with the training staff. He would return to the court just two minutes later, and then dive to the ground to grab a loose ball in characteristic fashion, skipping a pass to Donte DiVincenzo in the right corner while he was lying on his back. But Hart clutched his abdomen during every down moment of the game’s frenetic pace. Indiana stormed the open court after stops and even baskets by the Knicks. They lived on the streets all night, building a 23-point lead in the fourth quarter when New York ruled out Hart for the remainder of Game 6 with what the team called “abdominal pain,” as Indiana emerged with a 116-game victory. 103. .

The Knicks’ streak of injuries has been an inextricable part of this playoff run, just as their tenacious play still keeps New York one win away from the next round that has eluded this franchise for two decades. Now, a crucial Game 7 is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. ET at Madison Square Garden, and a key question looms between games: Will it be enough time for Hart to recover, much less return to form? “I guess you can add it to the list,” Brunson said.

New York is already down three starters, with Julius Randle and Mitchell Robinson sidelined due to season-ending surgeries, and OG Anunoby suffering a hamstring strain that has left the Knicks without their top acquisition to date. trade deadline since Game 2. Anunoby made the trip with New York to Indiana for Game 6, although Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau has only revealed that the 6-foot-7 forward is progressing “day by day.” day”. When asked what chance Anunoby has of suiting up for the decisive showdown at the world’s most famous stadium, Thibodeau deadpanned: “Whatever the doctor says.”

Hart’s effectiveness, or lack thereof, was on full display when the Pacers’ blockbuster addition, Anunoby’s former Raptors teammate Pascal Siakam, broke out in his best game of the series, leading Indiana with 25 points. , 7 rebounds and 5 assists. Hart had no answer for Siakam’s variety of spinning moves and probing drives. Siakam attracted so much attention that Myles Turner was able to sneak down the street late in the second quarter to unleash a vicious hammer on the Knicks’ defense.

New York then tried a combination of centers Isaiah Hartenstein and Precious Achiuwa on Siakam, but continued to practice mid-range jumpers. Thibodeau said the change was due to both Hart’s injury and an attempt to keep Siakam guessing. “I don’t think you feed him a steady diet of one man,” Thibodeau said.

You have to give credit to a young and unproven Indiana roster for responding while their backs were against the wall. During the previous matchup, the Knicks found 29 more shot attempts after dominating the glass, outrebounding the Pacers 53-29 overall and sweeping them to a 62-36 point advantage in the paint. In Game 6, Indiana changed that completely, outscoring New York 62-38 from inside and winning the rebounding battle.

The only soft start for the Knicks came from Deuce McBride, the backup guard whom Thibodeau inserted into the starting lineup for Game 5 to harass Tyrese Haliburton. McBride scored 11 in the first, launching his high-arcing shot with ease, guarding Brunson and jumping to the perimeter with too much ground for Haliburton to cover on the defensive end.

However, that action did little to free Brunson. He seemed in a bad mood from the jump, leaving free throws on the table and missing his patented pivots. He left a layup shortly after pinning his defender on her hip, seeming to concentrate more on drawing a whistle than finishing a basket. At the left elbow, he was doing-si-doing with the much larger Aaron Nesmith, a dance that only left Brunson completely off balance. Brunson was just 2 of 13 in the first half for 5 points after being chased on every dribble by Nesmith or Pacers guard Andrew Nembhard or reserve TJ McConnell.

“They used three different defenders against him, all different sizes,” Hartenstein said. “They were charging, so I think we have to do a better job of making Jalen look easier.”

“They’ve been doing a great job throughout the entire fitting series, showing me different looks,” Brunson said. “I have to do a better job reading it.”

DiVincenzo tangled with Nembhard late in the half to draw a technical foul. The next free throw was not awarded to the Knicks until early in the third quarter, giving Brunson a free trip to the foul line. He had swapped out his shoes from a pair of lime green Kobe “Grinch” low-top sneakers to an all-white ensemble. If there is a silver lining, it was Brunson finding form after that trip to the line. He started 4-for-4 in the second half and finished the third quarter 6-for-9 for 14 points, the last attempt being a pull-up at the buzzer that had little chance with McConnell covering all of him.

McConnell has been a revelation for the Pacers, who are now 6-0 at home in the playoffs. He contributed another 15 points and 4 assists in 16 minutes off the bench, at one point he jumped into the open field, fouled Hart and scored the basket anyway, so he turned to the Pacers bench and howled : “I’m a damn dog!

The energy increases every time McConnell takes the court, revving up the Pacers’ already frenetic offense even with Haliburton, Indiana’s All-Star powerhouse, taking a seat. That’s the extra firepower the Pacers will surely need to overcome a raucous Manhattan crowd above Penn Station on Sunday. McBride told reporters that he thought Hart was feeling better after the game, but his condition, of course, will loom over the end of this series.

“If his leg doesn’t fall off,” Hartenstein said, “I’d probably say he’d probably play.”

“I guess he’s playing,” Brunson said. “It’s Game 7.”

The Knicks overcame the final minute of their final regular-season game to claim second place in this Eastern Conference playoff group, earning the right to host Indiana rather than fight for their lives in enemy territory. With or without Hart, they know that familiar environment won’t be enough to simply attract Boston and have a shot at making the NBA Finals.

“It’s definitely something we strive for, having home field advantage as much as possible,” Brunson said. “But it doesn’t just happen because we’re at home.”

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