NBA Hoops

Indiana Pacers cruise past New York Knicks, tie series

Indiana Pacers cruise past New York Knicks, tie series

INDIANAPOLIS — Blowing out a visiting team in a playoff game is commonplace. What mattered more in the wake of the Indiana Pacers121-89 lopsided defeat of the New York Knicks in Sunday’s game is whether it was an aberration or a tipping point.

The Pacers’ game plan has become clear over their weekend sweep to even the second-round series 2-2: Do everything in their power to wear out the wounded and weary Knicks with giant emphasis on Jalen Brunson.

That has meant pressuring him as soon as he gets the ball, no matter where it is on the court. It has meant putting a bigger and more rugged defender, Aaron Nesmith, on him and challenging the referees by playing Brunson with much more physically. And it has meant using their depth advantage to play at speed, trying to run the Knicks to exhaustion.

A lot of things contributed to Sunday’s result. The Pacers shot the ball brilliantly, making 57% of their shots and knocking down 14 3-pointers. The Knicks looked sluggish and a step slow. Especially guards Donte DiVincenzo, who shot just 3-of-17 over his past five quarters as his hot streak ended, and Josh Hart, who finally admitted Sunday that he’s feeling fatigued after playing the first 10 quarters of the series without a break.

“I’m supposed to be the energy guy of the team and I didn’t do anything,” said Hart, who had just two points and three rebounds. “I gave nothing. I put that on my shoulders.”

But it’s Brunson who is the bellwether for the Knicks, and the Pacers know it. This series appears like it might hinge on whether Brunson, who has established a reputation for rising to the occasion especially when he’s doubted, can do it yet again with the series now being essentially a best-of-three.

“His ascension to what he’s become as a player, not many people have made a jump quite like him and I think we just need to make him work as much as possible and try to exert as much energy [as you can],” said Pacers guard T.J. McConnell, who is part of the effort. “He’s obviously a great player, and we just got to keep picking him up 94 feet and try to make things tough on him.”

Over the past two games, Brunson is shooting 9-of-27 against Nesmith. There’s evidence of fatigue in Brunson’s game, not to mention his sore right foot that popped up during Game 2. Over the two games in Indiana, Brunson…

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