Sports

Brunson scores 44, Knicks beat Pacers 121-91 to move a win away from conference finals

NEW YORK — (AP) — The New York Knicks have one more step to climb to reach the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 2000.

Jalen Brunson, after a couple rough games, looks ready to take it.

Brunson scored 44 points, reaching 40 for the fifth time in this postseason, and the Knicks beat the Indiana Pacers 121-91 on Tuesday night for a 3-2 lead in their playoff series.

The Knicks rebounded from a blowout loss and guaranteed themselves at least one more game at Madison Square Garden in front of their roaring fans who had been aching to see big games in late spring again. Josh Hart had 18 points and 11 rebounds, and Deuce McBride scored 17 points after he was inserted into the starting lineup.

The No. 2-seeded Knicks can win the series Friday night at Indiana after the first two-day break between games in the series. Caitlin Clark's WNBA home debut with the Indiana Fever is scheduled for Thursday night at Gainbridge Fieldhouse, causing the extra day that perhaps can benefit a New York team that is playing without four key players.

Game 7, if necessary, would be Sunday afternoon.

“We still need one more win so we can’t get too excited about it,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “We have to understand what we need to do, stay focused on the task at hand. If you feel good about yourself you get knocked down in this league. We’ve got to be ready to go.”

Brunson hurt his right foot in Game 2 and was limited to 18 points Sunday, his lowest of the postseason, when the Pacers ran the Knicks off the floor in a 121-89 romp. He kept insisting he was fine and there was no reason to question that Tuesday.

“I think as a team, no matter what the situation is, we have the same mindset no matter what,” Brunson said. “And regardless of how I’m feeling or someone else is feeling, we know what’s at stake, we know what we have to do and we’re going to figure it out.”

Pulling up quickly for 3-pointers off the dribble or using his series of fakes and spins to set up soft jumpers in the lane, Brunson shot 18 for 35 and again looked like the player who finished fifth this season in MVP voting, not the one who shot 10 for 26 in Game 3 and 6 for 17 on Sunday.

He scored 28 in the first half, a Knicks playoff record, and then put away the game in the fourth with seven straight points, capped by a three-point play that made it 106-86 with 7:57 to go.

Brunson, who scored 43 in Game 1 to become the fourth player in NBA history with four consecutive 40-point games in the playoffs, had plenty of help.

Alec Burks, who had been out of the rotation entirely until re-emerging after a rash of injuries, added 18 points off the bench and Isaiah Hartenstein had seven points and 17 rebounds. Hartenstein grabbed 12 on the offensive end, helping the Knicks overwhelm the Pacers 53-29 on the glass, with 20 offensive rebounds leading to 26 second-chance points.

“We got annihilated on loose balls, rebounds. Gave up 20 offensive rebounds and 29 more shots. So, we all own it,” Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said. “But very embarrassing. Very embarrassing and a hard lesson.”

Pascal Siakam scored 22 points for the sixth-seeded Pacers, who will try to stay unbeaten at home in the postseason to force the decisive game. Myles Turner added 16 but All-Star Tyrese Haliburton had only 13 after averaging 29.7 over the last three games.

Indiana got off to a strong start before the Knicks surged ahead with an 11-0 run en route to a 38-32 lead after one. Carlisle burned three timeouts in the quarter, the crowd seemingly growing louder with each.

Brunson had consecutive baskets for a 13-point lead early in the second quarter and then had the first basket in a 9-0 run that made it 65-47 with 2:11 remaining. A 17-0 run in the third turned an eight-point lead into an 89-64 bulge.

“They killed us on the glass better than they probably have in any game all series,” Haliburton said. “We just didn’t match the intensity level all night.”

The Knicks haven't reached the conference finals since the Pacers beat them in 2000 in the sixth meeting between the teams in eight years. With Patrick Ewing, Latrell Sprewell and Larry Johnson among the players from that era in the crowd, this one had some of that 1990s Knicks-Pacers fierceness in a game featuring five technical fouls.

Isaiah Jackson was called for a foul for a hard pick that knocked Donte DiVincenzo to the court in the first half. Hartenstein walked up and got chest-to-chest with Jackson, and Burks also came in and appeared to bring his hand up and make contact with Jackson. All three players were called for technical fouls.

Later, after DiVincenzo slammed down the miss of Brunson's jumper, he and Turner got tangled up as DiVincenzo tried to fight through a pick. They then screamed at each other after a foul was called and both were given technical fouls as the crowd chanted DiVincenzo's name while referees reviewed the play.

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AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA

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