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Pacers deserve their moment in the sun after destroying Knicks in historic Game 7



Pacers deserve their moment in the sun after destroying Knicks in historic Game 7

NEW YORK – As always, Knicks Nation was persuasive and astute as the team lost Game 7 to the Indiana Pacers in Madison Square Garden.

“(Bleeping) scrubs,” said one well-reasoned fan as he left MSG in the final minutes of the 130-108 loss.

The home fans were bitterly disappointed. No one on this island believed the Pacers could get here and put the big boy the Knicks, as depleted as they were, in winner-take-all position for a spot in the conference finals as long as Jalen Brunson was healthy and New York could do that. keep grabbing handfuls of offensive rebounds. ESPN certainly seemed clear in its coverage plan. But the Pacers bent their necks to show what they had learned and how they had grown in recent months. They railed against the Knicks and their well-heeled fans on celebrity row. They noted how few national reporters were present much this season. Their coach seemed to enjoy pointing out the disrespect his team had suffered.

And Tyrese Haliburton showed up to the postgame news conference in a Reggie Miller hoodie, with Reg in classic “Knicks choked” mode, a tribute to the franchise’s greatest player of all time and baby terrible in Gotham.

“I just want to feel comfortable on the plane,” Haliburton said, his tongue firmly in his cheek.

Even when they broke the previous record for highest field goal percentage by a team in a Game 7, shooting an NBA playoff record 67 percent for the game – 53 of 79!! – and made 13 of 24 3-pointers, Pacers coach Rick Carlisle came back again and again to the defense his team played when it mattered most.

“They flipped the script,” Carlisle said. “They won the series with grit, grit and physical play. Press 94 feet. And that’s how we beat Milwaukee (in the first round) too. You have to give these guys a lot of credit, not for a total change, but for a very significant change in the attitude towards defense, the opposition to, the importance of defense, and what they did today. I don’t want to talk about making shots.”


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The Pacers’ metamorphosis since the first month of the season, when Indy was cosmically bad defensively, has been profound indeed. It required the grunt work to connect and defend louder. But it also required Indiana to get out of its comfort zone and put all its chips in the middle of the table, acquiring Pascal Siakam from Toronto in mid-January in a three-team deal that also included New Orleans, without any warranty afterwards. playoffs where the two-time All-Star and rising unrestricted free agent will remain.

“My focus going into the game was to make everyone feel comfortable,” Siakam said The Athletics. “I came in aggressively and made sure everyone calmed down. Once everyone calmed down, (Haliburton) took over. And he can do that with the best (in) the game. And of course that back and forth gets you going.”

Siakam made his first five shots from the floor on his way to 20 points. Haliburton chased 3s in the first quarter, including a dead sprint to the left wing for a 26-footer in transition, giving him 11 points in less than two minutes. Indiana scored 39 in the first quarter and led 70-55 at halftime. The Pacers’ offensive output was stunning in its entirety.

“It’s just the old-fashioned way of thinking: You can’t play that fast in the playoffs,” Haliburton said. “But I think, opportunistically, you can do it. If we can get stops, of course we can do that.”

But Carlisle was right. Indiana may have had numerically better defensive nights against the Knicks in the series, but considering the stakes of a Game 7 on the road, this was Indiana’s best defensive hour. Before leaving the game in the second half after breaking his left hand, Brunson was just 6 of 17 from the floor. TJ McConnell was once again disruptive from the bench. And after being decisively defeated on the glass in the first two games of the series, Indy defeated New York in four of the last five games, winning all four of those games.

(Speaking of which: Man, the NBA is so bad at rigging games! It had Boston-New York on a silver platter, chock full of potential golden ratings, with the No. 1 and No. 8 TV markets. And it made sure the Pacers were able to run roughshod over the Knicks. It produced no fouls against Haliburton or Siakam. And this continues a troubling trend. won five titles; it hasn’t brought New York a championship in over five decades! If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times – because so many of you scream “conspiracy” this time of year: If the NBA’s mission is to fix playoff games so they can play the biggest superstars in the biggest markets every postseason, it’s really and uniformly bad. Get better writers, folks. What is Eric Bischoff doing these days?)

Indiana’s defensive transformation began with the run to the In-Season Tournament finals in December, when Haliburton’s star rose nationally. But even then, Indy fell back to earth and was crushed by the Lakers in Las Vegas in the IST finals. The Pacers got LA’s best chance and discovered that what they did wasn’t good enough. The Lakers’ defensive attention to detail, how much they stayed locked into the Indiana team scout, impressed Haliburton.

“I think experience was the biggest thing,” Pacers center Myles Turner said. “We had a lot of guys who hadn’t played high-level basketball or played games that mattered. The In-Season Tournament, it was like a heightened sense of urgency in all those matches. We know how we started the year defensively, but we all came together and we said to ourselves, if we could go from 30 to average, we could be a great team.

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Carlisle blew up its starting lineup the day after Christmas, slotting Andrew Nembhard, Aaron Nesmith and Jalen Smith alongside Haliburton and Turner. That group had a net rating of minus-4.6, with a defensive rating of 120.8. Not great by any means, but at least the defensive bleeding wasn’t as deep as the first two months. Once Siakam came on board, the Pacers’ D really took off; in 25 games of Haliburton-Nembhard-Nesmith-Siakam-Turner, Indiana’s defensive rating was 107.2, with a net rating of 6.4.

There was a lot of soul searching, McConnell said.

“I think it was masked by the horrible offense we played, but it just wasn’t good enough,” McConnell said. “You don’t get to this point without turning things around defensively. Thanks to the coaching staff and everyone for looking in the mirror to get better in that moment.

Acquiring Siakam not only meant trading three first-round picks to Toronto — two this season, one in 2026 — but also moving veteran forward Bruce Brown, whom Indiana signed with much fanfare last season after Brown the Denver Nuggets had helped win the title. Brown wasn’t a fit for Indy, but he had the pedigree of a champion. Of course, that also applies to Siakam, who helped the Raptors get a ring in 2019. But Brown is under contract for next season. Not Siakam.

Siakam has been impressed with the way the Pacers are doing things, even after the emergence of Haliburton (although that matters too). With president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard and general manager Chad Buchanan, Indy has experienced front office stability and a clear vision for how to build around Haliburton. In Carlisle, the Pacers have one of the game’s best tacticians, who always seems to get the most out of his squad.

“After the season tournament, we just decided as a staff that we had to be better,” Carlisle said. “…I just told our guys, we’re going to take a stand and we’re going to get better. Offensively we were on a historic pace, but to get to where we are now and where we want to get in the next round and in the future, what we did offensively was not sustainable. It just wasn’t. Not if you can’t guard and rebound consistently.”

The task of beating top-seeded and well-rested Boston, which begins Tuesday at TD Garden, is Indiana’s biggest challenge yet. The Celtics may be without center Kristaps Porziņģis to start the series, but they are otherwise healthy. They have been the best team in the competition all season. They’ve had a relatively easy road to the conference finals.

But here come the Pacers, playing with house money, still far from dominating the city’s sports headlines. Next Sunday is the 108th running of the Indianapolis 500, and there’s a rookie guard for the WNBA’s Indiana Fever who has apparently attracted some attention.

The Pacers will fly under the radar and love it.

(Photo by Pascal Siakam: Elsa/Getty Images)