May 25, 2024

How the Pacers’ out-Knicksed the Knicks in crucial Game 3 win


INDIANAPOLIS — With the shot clock running low on Friday, Indiana Pacers guard Andrew Nembhard heeded teammate Tyrese Haliburton’s warning and tried to create some space.

Nembhard attacked Jalen Brunson off the dribble. He pushed his dribble toward the rim and crossed over between his legs before taking a huge stepback. As he gathered the ball for his shot, Nembhard fumbled it slightly but eventually settled himself long enough to attempt a 31-footer, just before the shot clock buzzer sounded.

With Indiana down two games to the New York Knicks, the Pacers’ hopes for their second-round series hung in the balance as the basketball Nembhard flung into the air rotated and spun back to Earth. It splashed through the net and the sellout crowd at Gainbridge Fieldhouse erupted as the Pacers took a three-point lead with 16.4 seconds remaining in Game 3.

“The clock was down, and sometimes, in those situations, it frees you up even more,” Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said of Nembhard’s 3. “And he just, he just laced it.”

 

“When I got the ball, I didn’t really realize what the time was,” Nembhard added. “Ty said something. I looked up, and it was like two seconds on the clock, so I just knew I had to get something off. So, I just tried to create a little bit of space and put it up.”

Eventually, after a defensive stop and a few free throws, the Pacers grabbed a 111-106 victory, taking their first game from New York.

As Knicks guard Josh Hart contemplated Nembhard’s big shot, he didn’t find himself angry about its low-percentage chance of falling through the net. Instead, Hart was upset Nembhard had the ball in his hands to take that shot in the first place.

“At the end of the day, he shouldn’t have got that shot ’cause we should have got a rebound,” Hart said. “We had several chances to get a rebound.”

With their backs against the wall, the Pacers were more desperate than the Knicks and ended up winning in clutch time by beating the Knicks at their own game. Before the series, there was extensive discussion about the teams’ contrasting styles. On one hand, the Pacers would try to push the tempo and outscore the Knicks, while the Knicks would try to slow it down and grind out victories.

Yet, as the series has played out, the Knicks won the first two games by outscoring the Pacers in fast-paced games featuring high-octane offense, while the Pacers took Game 3 by playing tougher late in the game and doing things like grabbing an offensive rebound to pull out a gritty win.

After a long night of chasing Jalen Brunson around and picking the Knicks star up full-court on every possession, it was only appropriate for Aaron Nesmith to also be the player that tipped out the rebound to keep the Pacers alive and give Nembhard the opportunity to take the lead in the final 30 seconds.

“You gotta fight,” Nesmith said. “They’re a physical team. We want to win, and you gotta want it more than they do. It’s as simple as that.”

Following a Miles McBride 3-pointer with 9:46 remaining, the Pacers trailed by nine points, their largest deficit of the night. They had already blown a 12-point lead, something that has turned into a trend throughout the series. Yet, as Nesmith described, the Pacers did not stop fighting.

Through nine playoff games, that is the biggest lesson Halliburton feels as though he has learned in his first playoff run.

“I would just say, more than anything, it’s about just getting to the next play, and that’s responding to something good or something bad,” Haliburton said after Friday’s win. “Honestly, down that stretch, I turned the ball over, I just had to get to the next play to get back and try to slow down Josh somehow, so Myles (Turner) could get that block.

“Just figuring out what you can do to get to the next play because every possession matters, and you’re just trying to win one possession at a time.”

Haliburton, who ended the night with 35 points, four rebounds and seven assists, was spectacular on Friday. The Pacers All-Star point guard spent the night in attack mode looking for his own shot and used his aggressiveness to create for himself and teammates, but that doesn’t mean he was perfect.

His turnover with a little more than two minutes remaining could have been disastrous if he hung his head following the error. Instead, Haliburton sprinted down the floor and tried to make a play on the ball.

Haliburton’s effort put Turner in a position to block a shot, which put Haliburton in position to push the ball up the court and create Nembhard’s first basket of the night with 1:56 remaining.

To close the game, the Pacers played with the desperation of a team fighting for its postseason life, knowing that a 3-0 deficit is essentially a death knell for any team in a seven-game series. That desperation led to an effort level that let them outwork the Knicks, a team built on playing harder than every other team on a nightly basis.

Even when things went wrong, the Pacers never wavered.

With a one-point lead and 1:45 remaining, Indiana started an offensive possession that ended with a catch-and-shoot look for Nembhard from the right wing. He missed it, but the Pacers fought for the rebound and created another possession. Haliburton missed on a drive on that next possession, but Turner grabbed another offensive rebound. Eventually, the Pacers created a look at a catch-and-shoot corner 3 for Nembhard, but he missed and the Knicks took over.

Rather than hang their heads, the Pacers got back on defense and kept fighting.

Mismatched in transition, Nembhard took up the fight for Nesmith and stayed in front of Brunson, ultimately forcing the Knicks star into an off-balance floater off a spin move and contested by Turner. And off that rebound, even with Nesmith putting one hand up signaling for the Pacers to slow down, Haliburton received the outlet from Turner and made the full-court pass to Pascal Siakam, who had sprinted the floor and scored on a goaltending by the Knicks.

Because, even if the Pacers were going to grab a gritty, Knicks-style win, they were going to do it the Pacers way.

“It was one of the things that we saw in him the first night he played here back in January of ’22,” Carlisle said of Haliburton’s never-ending commitment to making the right pass to his teammates. “He has a natural confidence in the guys that are on the floor with him. And the way he delivers the ball brings confidence to the players he’s playing with.

“Pascal, he’s been here before, he’s been in games like this. He didn’t have his best game, but he made some huge plays that were extremely important.

Siakam’s night wasn’t perfect, but he played hard and finished with 26 points on 9-of-14 shooting, grabbed seven rebounds and knocked down seven of his nine free-throw attempts after making only 14 of 32 (43.8 percent) in the Pacers’ first eight playoff games. With that effort, the Pacers came away with a win.

“Shout out to them, they played well in New York and their physicality and their level, it was tough,” Siakam said. “And I think we responded a little bit, and we gotta continue to do that. And we know how much it’s going to take for us to win these games, so that should just be our focus. Just one game at a time and can’t get ahead of ourselves.

It wasn’t pretty, but that doesn’t matter. The Pacers pulled out their first win in the series by outworking the Knicks. If they want any chance of tying the series on Sunday afternoon, they’re going to have to do it all over again.

(Top photo of Andrew Nembhard: Nathaniel S. Butler / Getty Images)





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