Brunson scores 43, rallies Knicks to 121-117 win over Pacers in Game 1 of Eastern Conference semis

by 24USATVMay 7, 2024, 5:02 a.m. 23
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NEW YORK (AP) — Jalen Brunson doesn’t go into a game aiming to score 40 points more consistently than anyone in the postseason since Michael Jordan.

He only cares about winning games, so a late defensive stop is just as important to him as any of his shots.

“The little things can go a long way,” Brunson said. “So yeah, the 40 points are cool and all, but it’s the little things that help us win games like that. So I’m just happy to have the group of guys that I do.”

And the New York Knicks are sure thrilled to have him.

, becoming the fourth player in NBA history with four straight 40-point games in the postseason, and the Knicks beat the Indiana Pacers 121-117 on Monday night in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Brunson had 21 in the fourth quarter, rallying the Knicks after they trailed by nine early in the period, and joined Hall of Famers Jerry West, who had six consecutive 40-point games in the postseason, and Michael Jordan and Bernard King (both with four). Jordan did it in the 1993 NBA Finals.

with 40 seconds remaining and scored 25 for the Knicks, who opened the second round with the type of close finish that their first-round victory over Philadelphia was full of.

The Pacers then cut it to one, but Myles Turner was called for an offensive foul when DiVincenzo ran into him.

“I just think the way they work, they’ve invested a lot into this season and they put a lot into each and every day,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “So, when you make that commitment to each other, you’re not going to give in, you’re going to keep fighting. And that’s the great fight. We know we’re short-handed. So, that’s our way.”

Josh Hart added a playoff career-high 24 points and added 13 rebounds and eight assists.

The No. 2-seeded Knicks will host Game 2 on Wednesday.

Turner scored 23 points for the sixth-seeded Pacers, who got strong play from their bench and were in good shape to follow their first-round ouster of Milwaukee by jumping to the lead against the Knicks.

But Brunson guided New York through another tight finish, after it outscored Philadelphia by one total point over six games in the first round.

“Playing in an arena like this, having it come down to the last couple of possessions on the road in the playoffs, what more can you ask for?” Pacers guard T.J. McConnell said. “The ball didn’t bounce our way. We just got to adjust and fix some things.”

Brunson soundly outplayed fellow All-Star point guard Tyrese Haliburton, the NBA’s assists leader who finished with six points and eight assists after being listed as questionable with back spasms.

Pascal Siakam scored 19 for Indiana and McConnell added 18, leading a bench that finished with a whopping 46-3 advantage over its New York counterparts.

The bench isn’t a big priority for the Knicks, who will ride Brunson, Hart and DiVincenzo as far as they can take them.

It was all enough to get the Knicks the early lead, their first in a series later than the first round since the 2000 East semifinals against Miami.

They lost Eastern Conference finals to the Pacers that year as part of their fierce playoff rivalry that began in the 1990s. The teams met three straight times from 1993-95 and again from 1998-2000 — when Thibodeau and Indiana’s Rick Carlisle were assistants with their current teams.

The renewal is off to a pretty eye-pleasing start.

McConnell’s basket made it 94-85 with about 10 1/2 minutes remaining and signaled an early end to what was supposed to be a rest for Brunson. He returned to spark an 8-0 run that got the Knicks right back into it, and when Indiana went back ahead 109-104 with 4:27 to go, he scored seven points in a 9-0 burst that gave New York a 113-109 lead.

The Pacers went back ahead 115-113 before Brunson tied it and DiVincenzo hit from behind the arc for the lead, just as he did in a rally to beat the 76ers last round.

“It was a little bit of like Game 2 of the last series,” DiVincenzo said.

Indiana’s bench — which should be an advantage for the Pacers in the series — provided a strong start to the second quarter, and a 9-0 run just before the half gave the Pacers a 55-46 advantage. Isaiah Hartenstein’s went in at the buzzer to make it a six-point game at the break.

The Knicks surged ahead by five with under five minutes remaining in the third but once again the Pacers got a big boost from their bench, with three baskets from McConnell and two dunks from former Knicks forward Obi Toppin — one where he put the ball between his legs first like something from a slam dunk contest. Indiana took an 87-82 lead to the fourth after Turner’s 3-pointer as time expired.

Hartenstein and OG Anunoby both finished with 13 points.

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