NBA Hoops

Jalen Brunson leads Knicks to 121-91 win vs. Pacers, New York takes 3-2 series lead

Yaron Weitzman

There were lots of reasons the New York Knicks thrashed the Indiana Pacers Tuesday night, 121-91, giving them a 3-2 series lead and putting them one win away from the conference finals. 

One was Isaiah Hartenstein, who pummeled the Pacers on the offensive glass and walled off their drives to the rim. He finished with just five points, but grabbed 17 rebounds — 12 of which (!) were off Knicks misses. He was only credited with one block, but that number undersells his impact on that end. 

Another was Tom Thibodeau’s decision to insert Miles McBride into the starting lineup to replace Precious Achiuwa, who was starting in place of the injured OG Anunoby. The swap led to a more spread floor for the Knicks and allowed them to better match the Pacers’ drive-and-kick machine. McBride was great, finishing with 17 points and four assists all while locking down Tyrese Haliburton (just 13 points and five assists). 

And let’s not forget Alec Burks, who, after not playing a minute in the first round against the Philadelphia 76ers, has been dusted off (thanks to all the Knicks’ injuries). He responded with an 18-points-in-22 minutes explosion.

But let’s also not kid ourselves: The Knicks won this game because Jalen Brunson looked like himself again. His bounce was back. So was his lift. Those silky jumpers that fell short in Games 3 and 4 ripped through the net in Game 5. After shooting just 37% in his previous two contests, Brunson bounced back with a monster performance: 44 points on 18-for-35 shooting to go along with seven assists. More than that, he made the Pacers look helpless once again. 

Brunson torched Aaron Nembhard, like he has all series, but this time he got the best of Aaron Nesmith and TJ McConnell, too. The former he cooked with his usual series of bobs and fakes. The latter he beat by punishing him with his size. He bullied the Pacers when they covered him one-on-one. When they sent traps, he got rid of the ball fast, finding rollers and cutters in the middle of the floor and forcing the Pacers’ defense to scramble.

Brunson is the engine that makes the Knicks go. When he plays like he did Sunday against the Pacers, the Knicks have no shot. But when he plays like he did throughout the back-end of the Sixers’ series and throughout the first six quarters of this series, before he hurt his right foot, this Knicks team, with its next-man-up mentality, can beat…

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