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Pacers blow depleted, dead-legged Knicks out of the water in Game 4, tie series 2-2

INDIANAPOLIS — This is the kind of game tape you burn and never speak of again.

It’s the kind of game that forced Tom Thibodeau — in unprecedented fashion — to wave the white flag with 2:32 left in the third quarter of the Knicks’ Game 4 blowout loss to the Indiana Pacers on Sunday.

Jalen Brunson, when healthy, appeared in every fourth quarter the Knicks played this season except one, when the Knicks entered the last period of their April 11 victory over the Boston Celtics up 29 points.

Brunson watched from the sidelines as his Knicks coughed up their lead in the final period and left Boston with a nine-point victory.

He watched from the sidelines, again, as the Pacers steamrolled his Knicks for a 121-89 victory to tie the series at two games apiece. The Knicks, who had not lost a game by more than 24 points this season, never came within 28 points of the Pacers in the second half.

Thibodeau pulled Brunson, who had 18 points on 6-of-17 shooting through 31 minutes, and subbed in Shake Milton, the midseason acquisition who hadn’t logged a minute on-court since April 4. Shortly after, at the 44-second mark of the third period, he pulled starting guard Donte DiVincenzo and subbed in DaQuan Jeffries, who had only logged 46 total minutes on the season.

Josh Hart’s night ended at the 8:17 mark of the third quarter, and Thibodeau pulled Isaiah Hartenstein with 6:54 left before ultimately calling it quits by sending the league’s leading playoff scorer to the bench with under three minutes to go in the third.

And at the top of the fourth quarter, Thibodeau pulled the plug on Precious Achiuwa, opting to ride third-string center Jericho Sims the rest of the way.

Thibodeau likely would have pulled Miles McBride, too, if he had another set of legs to throw on the court.

He didn’t.

It’s the state of a Knicks team wearing thin against a Pacers team running nine-to-10 players deep.

The Knicks were already without Julius Randle (shoulder), Bojan Bogdanovic (ankle) and Mitchell Robinson (ankle) before OG Anunoby left the second half of Game 2 with a left hamstring strain.

As of Sunday afternoon, Anunoby had not progressed past pool work to running on-court. He is unlikely to clear the benchmarks necessary to play in Game 5 back at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday.

The Pacers blew the Knicks out of the water with a 34-14 first quarter, then outscored the Knicks, 35-27, in the second. The Knicks’ 41 points scored in the first half tied for fourth-fewest scored in any half this season.

As for Brunson, it’s been a year-and-a-half since the last time he watched from the sidelines in defeat: the Knicks’ Nov. 13, 2022 blowout loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, who led by 16 at the end of the third quarter before Thibodeau rode Immanuel Quickley for the duration of the fourth.

The Knicks were down 16 in the first quarter on Sunday, and dead legs against an energetic Pacers team were to blame.

Brunson finished with 18 points but no other Knicks starter scored more than eight. After scoring 14 points in Game 1, Alec Burks scored another 20 off the bench on 5-of-11 shooting from the field.

McBride added another 16 points on 6-of-17 shooting from the field, but it wasn’t enough to put a dent in the offensive onslaught the Pacers hung on the Knicks on Sunday.

Now, the Knicks have some time: Sunday’s game tipped off at 3:30 p.m., and Game 5 back in New York doesn’t start until 8 p.m. on Tuesday night.

While Anunoby’s status remains unclear — if not outright unlikely — the core Knicks will welcome the additional hours of rest they can use to recover from a heavy workload to start the playoffs.

Hart, for example, logged 42 or more minutes in eight consecutive playoff games before his day ended with 24 minutes on Sunday.

DiVincenzo also logged four straight games with 44 or more minutes before an early hook in Game 4.

The Pacers out-rebounded the Knicks, 52-43, and recorded 31 assists to New York’s 18.

The Pacers initially listed All-Star point guard Tyrese Haliburton as questionable with three different ailments, but Haliburton finished with 20 points, six rebounds and five assists. Six different Pacers scored in double figures, including former Knicks forward Obi Toppin (14 points, 6-of-11 shooting) and T.J. McConnell, who double-doubled with 15 points and 10 assists off the bench.


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