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Friday, May 10, 2024

Pacers Outscrap Scrappy Knicks to Win Game Three, 111-106

"The inches we need are everywhere around us. They're in every break of the game, every minute, every second. On this team, we fight for that inch. On this team, we tear ourselves and everyone else around us to pieces for that inch. We claw with our fingernails for that inch, because we know when we add up all those inches that's gonna make the f------ difference between winning and losing! Between livin' and dyin'!"--Coach Tony D'Amato, "Any Given Sunday"

The New York Knicks are not the biggest or the most talented team in the NBA, but they might be the scrappiest. In a must win game three at home, the Indiana Pacers outscrapped the New York Knicks by just enough to win 111-106 and preserve the opportunity to tie the series at 2-2 with one more home win. Tyrese Haliburton scored a game-high 35 points while shooting 14-26 from the field (including 6-16 from three point range), and he also dished for a game-high seven assists. Pascal Siakam added 26 points and seven rebounds, while Myles Turner contributed 21 points, a team-high 10 rebounds, and three blocked shots. 

Donte DiVincenzo picked up the slack for a hobbled Jalen Brunson--who was questionable before the game with a right foot injury--by tying Haliburton for game-high honors with 35 points. Brunson was less efficient than usual, shooting just 10-26 from the field and having five turnovers to go along with his six assists. He finished with 26 points, and he scored seven points on 2-7 field goal shooting in the fourth quarter as both he and the Knicks seemed worn down; the Knicks scored just 16 points on 4-19 fourth quarter shooting.

The Pacers outrebounded the Knicks 42-41, including 15-10 in the fourth quarter when the Pacers snared five offensive rebounds. Aaron Nesmith corralled the last of those offensive rebounds with 30.5 seconds remaining and the score tied at 106. Andrew Nembhard struggled with his shot (five points on 2-8 field goal shooting), but he converted that extra possession into what turned out to be the game-winning three pointer with 17.8 seconds remaining. Nesmith closed out the scoring with a pair of free throws.

The injury-depleted Knicks played without Julius Randle, Mitchell Robinson, and OG Anunoby, but after falling behind by 12 points in the first quarter they surged to a 98-89 lead with 9:46 left in the fourth quarter before the Pacers saved their season (at least for now) by closing the game on a 22-8 run.

Watching the Knicks and Pacers scrap, scratch, and claw for every inch during this highly competitive game, one cannot avoid thinking about two teams that recently fired their coaches: the L.A. Lakers (Darvin Ham) and the Phoenix Suns (Frank Vogel). If you conducted a draft of the players on the rosters of these four teams, it is doubtful that a Knick or a Pacer would make the top four: Anthony Davis, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Devin Booker would lock up those spots, and then Brunson would go fifth--but is it the fault of Ham and Vogel that their teams combined to win just one playoff game in 2024? 

The Lakers and Suns don't play hard consistently--and, as Coach D'Amato declared in his famous speech, the coach can't make the players play hard: the players have to commit to playing hard and fighting for those inches. Coaches design game plans, but stars set the tone for how hard a team plays. LeBron James won his four championships by hopping from team to team and begging other stars to play with him. Kevin Durant won his two titles by fleeing Oklahoma City to join a team that had just beaten him and had previously won a championship without him. There is no doubt that James and Durant are all-time great players, but they did not achieve that status by playing the way that the Knicks play. Imagine if the Lakers and Suns played as hard each game this season as the Knicks do every game and as the Pacers did in this game with their season on the line. There is no way that the Lakers and Suns would have finished the way that they did if they had consistently played hard. 

The Knicks are a joy to watch, and even though the Pacers don't bring that kind of energy every game it is fair to say that they do so more often than the Lakers and Suns do. The Knicks do not complain, whine, or make excuses. They just play ball. After the first two games of this series, the Pacers whined to some extent about some admittedly bad calls, but they also candidly admitted that they had to play better--and they came through in game three. In marked contrast, the star players from the Lakers and Suns threw their coaches under the bus without ever taking personal responsibility for how much their teams underachieved.

Basketball purists are thrilled to watch Knicks-Pacers, and relieved that we don't have to see the Lakers and Suns until next fall.

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posted by David Friedman @ 11:21 PM



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