Knicks-Pacers: 5 takeaways from Pacers’ decisive Game 4 victory

Indiana holds New York to just 14 points in the 1st quarter and never looks back, improving to 5-0 at home in the playoffs.

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INDIANAPOLIS — For the first time in the 2024 playoffs, the New York Knicks played a game without any drama. That was bad news for the Knicks, who were routed 121-89 by the Indiana Pacers in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Sunday.

The Knicks just didn’t have it. The Pacers did, and a 29-7 run gave them a 23-point lead late in the first quarter. New York was never within 15 after that, and Indiana cruised to a 32-point victory.

Here are some notes, quotes, numbers and film as the Pacers evened the series at two games apiece.

1. The slowest of slow starts for the Knicks

First quarters have not been good for the Knicks in these playoffs. Prior to Sunday, they had good numbers in the other three quarters but had been outscored by 11.7 points per 100 possessions in the opening 12 minutes. With that, they had trailed seven of their nine playoff games by double digits.

This, of course, was the Knicks’ worst first quarter of the bunch. They scored on the game’s first possession, but scored just one more time on their next 10 trips down the floor. Wide-open shots didn’t connect, free throws were missed and drives were contested.

The Pacers aren’t a great defensive team, but they were good enough on Sunday. Aaron Nesmith got the Jalen Brunson assignment for the second straight game and didn’t give the Knicks’ point guard anything easy.

Throughout this series, the Pacers have refused to give the Knicks a Brunson vs. Haliburton matchup on that end of the floor. Key to that has been Nesmith’s willingness to fight through screens and get back in front of Brunson. From there, he’s sometimes been able to disrupt Brunson’s dribble.

Aaron Nesmith defense vs. Jalen Brunson

All those empty possessions on the Knicks’ end of the floor allowed the Pacers to do what they do best.

2. Make or miss, the Pacers will run

The Pacers are the last team you want to play when you don’t have your legs. For one, they consistently push the ball in transition. With all those stops in the first quarter on Sunday came many transition opportunities where the Knicks couldn’t keep up.

Heck, the Pacers didn’t need a real stop to score quickly. Their first points of the game came on a transition layup after a missed free throw on the other end of the floor:

Andrew Nembhard transition drive

Per Synergy tracking, those were the first of the Pacers’ 38 transition points on Sunday. That’s their high for the playoffs and the second most the Knicks have allowed all season (92 total games).

With Nembhard, Tyrese Haliburton and T.J. McConnell, the Pacers have three guards who will push the ball, penetrate and create advantages. But this team also moves the ball so well, making it especially hard to keep up if the defensive energy is lacking.

A little later in the first quarter, the Pacers had a five-pass transition possession where Tyrese Haliburton gave the ball up early and eventually got it back for a wide-open 3-pointer:

Tyrese Haliburton transition 3-pointer

That was the story all afternoon. The Pacers shot better (14-for-31 from 3-point range vs. the Knicks 7-for-37) mostly because they got better shots.

3. Point guards trending in opposite directions

Jalen Brunson somehow returned from a foot injury in Game 2 to score 24 points in the second half. But over the two games in Indiana, he’s shot 16-for-43 (37%), including just 2-for-11 from 3-point range.

On Sunday, his first couple of misses were just off the mark. But ultimately, seven of his 11 misses were short.

Of course, he wouldn’t admit to having less lift or burst since he hurt his foot and wasn’t on the injury report before Game 4.

“I’m fine,” he said. “I’m fine.”

Haliburton has also been banged up, but unlike his counterpart, his numbers are trending up. After scoring just six points on 2-for-6 shooting in Game 1, he’s averaged 29.7 on 55% over the past three.

The Pacers’ pace and ball movement have gotten him some great looks, but he also closed the first half with a tough stepback 3-pointer over Donte DiVincenzo:

Tyrese Haliburton step-back 3-pointer

Every game in a playoff series is different and Brunson should get a lift from the Madison Square Garden crowd with the series heading back to New York for Game 5. But the play of the two All-Star point guards has been trending in the Pacers’ favor.

4. Knicks’ defense not good enough

League-wide efficiency has been lower in the playoffs (111.9 points scored per 100 possessions) than it was in the regular season (114.5). But the Knicks have now allowed 7.4 more per 100 in the postseason (119.8, 15th of 16 teams) than they did in the regular season (112.4, ninth). When they’ve won, they’ve mostly won with offense, with offensive rebounding being a big part of that.

They’ve played two good offensive teams. The Sixers ranked sixth offensively before Joel Embiid’s extended absence, and the Pacers had the second-most efficient offense in NBA history. But Indiana has scored more efficiently in this series than it did in the regular season or its first-round series against the Antetokounmpo-less Bucks.

The Knicks’ defense regresses without OG Anunoby, who suffered a strained hamstring in Game 2. Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said Anunoby traveled with the team to Indianapolis but had done “just pool work” before Game 4. Since his arrival, New York is 26-5 with Anunoby and 13-16 without him.

But the defense wasn’t very good (118.3 points allowed per 100 possessions) in Anunoby’s 320 minutes in these playoffs. And whether he plays or not, the Knicks must be better on that end of the floor.

“It’s not just OG,” Thibodeau said. “OG was out for a good chunk of the season, so that’s no excuse. Just get it done.”

5. Knicks’ starters get some early (and needed) rest

Thibodeau is not one to concede defeat early. Over Jalen Brunson’s two seasons with the Knicks (and prior to Sunday), there were 63 losses where he was healthy enough to play the fourth quarter. And in only one of those 63 games (a loss to Oklahoma City in Nov. 2022) did he spend the entire fourth on the bench.

But this game was out of hand, the Knicks were short-handed and banged up, and two of their most important players had averaged more than 41 minutes through their first nine playoff games. Furthermore, this was the shortest turnaround you’ll get in the playoffs, a Sunday afternoon game after one on Friday night.

Josh Hart, the player averaging 46.4 minutes before Sunday, was the first starter to sit down, replaced by Precious Achiuwa with 8:17 left in the third. Then it was Isaiah Hartenstein (6:54), Brunson (2:32) and Donte DiVincenzo (0:44).

We got 15 minutes of garbage time and maybe that’s what the Knicks needed, even if it came with their largest margin of defeat this season.

“Yeah we’re short-handed,” Brunson said afterward. “But that doesn’t matter right now. 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. That’s what that was.”

The Knicks will now have to hope that a relatively early return home and two nights in their beds will be enough to have them more ready for Game 5 on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET, TNT). They’ve been remarkably resilient thus far, but with every game, there’s a little more wear on the tires and a little less gas in the tank.

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John Schuhmann is a senior stats analyst for You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on X. 

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