NBA: Short-handed Knicks hope to shift series flow vs. Pacers

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The last time the New York Knicks played at home, Jalen Brunson conjured up memories of the franchise’s first NBA title by playing through an injury and lifting the Knicks to a memorable victory.

But the Knicks’ next championship may seem even further away by the end of Tuesday night.

The undermanned Knicks will try to stop an ill-timed skid and the Pacers will aim to take the series lead Tuesday night, when New York hosts Indiana in Game 5 of the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinals.

The Pacers tied the series 2-2 in dominating fashion Sunday afternoon, leading by as many as 43 points before beating the visiting Knicks 121-89.

The 32-point margin of defeat was tied for the fifth largest in franchise history in a playoff game for the Knicks and their most lopsided since a 33-point setback April 28, 2012, when New York fell to the Miami Heat 100-67.

The lack of suspense was unusual for the Knicks, whose first nine playoff games were decided by a total of 53 points. It is an indication New York finally is feeling the effects of the spate of injuries that has decimated its rotation.

Former All-Star Julius Randle is out for the season with a right shoulder injury. Mitchell Robinson is expected to be out until at least mid-June after aggravating a left ankle injury in Game 1 on May 6 against the Pacers. OG Anunoby has missed the last two games with a left hamstring injury from Game 2 last Wednesday, when the Knicks took a 2-0 series lead after a 130-121 win.

That victory was sparked by Brunson, who missed the final 15-plus minutes of the first half with a right foot injury before returning to score 24 points in the second half on the 54th anniversary of Willis Reed’s injury-defying heroics during a Game 7 win over the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals.

“Yeah, we’re short-handed but that doesn’t matter right now,” Brunson said. “We have what we have, and we need to go forward with that. So there is no ‘We’re short-handed.’ There is no excuse. There’s no excuse whatsoever. If we lose, we lose.”

The Pacers wasted little time establishing the tone Sunday. They posted their third-largest margin of victory in a playoff game in franchise history and their most convincing postseason win since a 121-87 rout of the Cleveland Cavaliers on April 27, 2018.

The Pacers raced out to a 14-4 lead in the opening 6:30 of the game when the Knicks were just 2-of-12 from the field and 0-of-2 from the free throw line while committing one turnover.

“We started the right way,” Pacers forward Aaron Nesmith said. “Played with pressure, played with force, played with aggression on both sides of the ball.”

The series-evening win provided multiple doses of relief for the Pacers, who were able to rest Nesmith and star point guard Tyrese Haliburton in the fourth quarter. Nesmith was listed as questionable entering Sunday due to a sore right shoulder while Haliburton was questionable with lower back spasms, a lower back bruise and a right ankle sprain.

Haliburton and Nesmith combined to score 28 points on 12-of-23 shooting while pulling down 18 rebounds.

“It just feels good to get a win, but we have to understand that at the end of the day, all we did is our job and win two games at home,” Haliburton said. “We understand the magnitude of Game 5 and we’ll be prepared for that.”

–Field Level Media

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