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Pacers 111, Knicks 98: “Ahhh, the good old fake comeback”

5-24 from deep and sloppy defense as the Knicks drop second straight.

New York Knicks v Indiana Pacers Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The New York Knicks traveled to the Gainbridge Fieldhouse to face the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday. At 5-2, the Knicks were coming off a deflating defeat to the Raptors in which they surrendered 38 points in the third quarter.

The 2-6 Pacers had just won 131-118 against the Spurs. While no offensive juggernaut, they scored 78 points in the first half against San Antonio. With two losses by one point and one by three, their record could easily have been 5-3.

Records can misleading, friends. I knew this game would be close. I didn’t expect the Knicks to never have a lead, though. Yeah, it was that kind of night.

Prior to the game, returning players were the biggest news. Malcolm Brogdon and Caris LeVert were back in action for Indiana. For the Knicks…finally…Nerlens Noel’s knee was healthy enough for him to play. Finally.

The game started rocky with Myles Turner scoring eight unanswered points for Indiana. (He’ll come up again—and again—later.) Duarte added three. Julius Randle missed two shots, RJ Barrett had one blocked, and this looked like a continuation of Monday’s stinker. Thibs called his first time out with 9:45 remaining, down 11-0.

New York circulated the ball better after a Thibs lecture. RJ has had the hot hand recently and drained a three that gave us hope. But Brogdon answered with a three-point play. A Fournier three followed, plus a Mitchell Robinson block, and perchance there could be momentum. But Sabonis was fouled by Randle and completed his own three-point play.

That was the story of the game. Anytime the Knicks got some juice, and Pacers gave it right back. A 2-6 team, my ass.

This was a nice early moment. Randle hammered down a week’s worth of frustration with this rim-rattler.

The Knicks shot 3-13 out of the gate. Briefly, I hung my hopes on Mitch, who collected three rebounds and three blocks in Q1. But he faded away, too.

There was this...Walker hitting the gas for a layup.

Could have used more of those.

Noel and Derrick Rose checked in with the Knicks down by ten and 4:08 to go in Q1.

Cat and mouse continued. Fournier got a layup, and Rose made two free throws, but Torrey Craig scored five consecutive points. New York could never gain sufficient ground.

We take our highlights where we can get ’em. Here is Derrick passing 12K career points:

And welcome back, Nerlens! His block led to a Quickley fast-break bucket.

Rose had a nice reverse layup—yet another glimmer that was promptly dashed by Duarte with a mid-court three-pointer at the buzzer. End of Q1: Pacers, 36-22.

The second quarter began with New York’s second unit on the floor. The back-and-forth scoring and featherweight defense continued. This Noel to Toppin ally oop was tasty, though:

Myles Turner kept hitting threes like a maniac. Am I wrong, or did it seem like Clyde was snarky toward Turner? Anyway, Turner blocked a Randle dunk, Rose blocked Brogdon. Everybody was blockin! Then Duarte tagged Fournier on a three-point attempt, and Evan canned all three. Momentum, eh?

Nope. More of the same. Craig scored on a 13-foot jumper in Randle’s grill. Barrett got a fast break dunk. Brogdon took an unfettered stroll to the hoop. Barrett answered with a three.

Thibs called time out to give viewers at home a chance to check what else was on TV.

The yo-yo ball continued. Randle gave us another emphatic dunk, however. There was contact on this, and Randle shot daggers at the ref for the non-call.

By game’s end, the Knicks would shoot 21-27 from the charity stripe, and the Pacers were 11-14. I suppose there’s a positive to be found in there. After this game, I’m too grouchy to find it.

Fournier bricked another three to end the first half. The Knicks were lucky to be down 59-50.

By halftime, the Knicks had shot 41% from the field (19-47) and 27% from three (4-16). Indiana went 45% FG (24-53) and 38% 3PT (9-24). New York had committed five turnovers to Indiana’s four. Three-pointers and the Knicks’ matador defense were the difference.

Julius Randle had finally got rolling toward the end of Q2. He closed the half with seven points, nine rebounds, and three assists, shooting 3-9 FG, 0-2 3PT. Many of his shots were hitting the back of the iron. Methinks he’s overthinking again.

The Knicks came out of intermission with a headful of steam. Barrett scored a quick layup. Fournier hit a 13-footer. But hope-killer Myles Turner kept scorching from deep, hitting his fourth three. A little later, he sank his fifth, returning the lead to 11.

At one point, Walker tried to throw a pass through a defender’s upraised arms. Methinks they’re all overthinking now.

Sometime in the third, Brogdon yanked Barrett to the ground on a fast-break layup attempt. A trailing Duarte inadvertently stepped on the Maple Mamba while he was down. The officials deemed it a common foul. Whattayaknow? The refs suck at the Gainbridge Fieldhouse, too.

The Pacers must be thrilled to have LeVert back. At one point in the third, Caris made seven consecutive points. Every time the Knicks cut into the lead, one of those damned hoosiers would go on a run and squash it.

Walker was inconsistent, but did draw two charges in the game. Love the courageous play, worry about the damn knees.

On one encouraging sequence, Rose was blocked and the Pacers had a fast break, but the Knicks got back in a hurry. That was missing in the loss to the Raptors.

RJ Barrett’s been New York’s sparkplug this season. Once again, he tried to keep us in the game. He scored from all over, logging 12 points in the quarter.

Burks played some quality minutes tonight. In 21, he chipped in 10 points and showed flashes of good defense. He blocked McConnell on a drive that looked like a sure bucket. Alec even played a little point guard. Yeah, he finished -6, but that was better than the starters.

The quarter ended with the Knicks down 80-75. On a positive note, New York played better defense over those 12 minutes. They had six blocks by this point.

In the fourth, a Quickley floater and a barreling drive by Rose cut the score to 85-83.

That was a close as they would come. The defensive lapses returned. McConnell, who had taken only 11 threes this year, sat on the weak side and had all day to sink a corner three. That, plus, an easy bucket by Bitadze, caused Thibs to spontaneously combust. After being doused with foam, Tom’s charred remains called a timeout to give his men holy Hell. 90-83. 8:55 to go.

After the break, Thibs kept running the second unit, then subbed Randle in for Obi, then brought back RJ, then all the starters. No combinations ignited the comeback they needed.

Once more, RJ drove to the lane and got clobbered. No foul. It’s cool that the league is cracking down on the Trae Young and James Harden nonsense, but there was hard contact tonight that should have been flagged. Listen, I cut my teeth on the early nineties Knicks and prefer physical ball. RJ took some lumps tonight is all I’m saying.

Did I mention that Myles Turner had a career night from downtown, hitting seven treys? Of course he did.

In the final minutes, Walker, Fournier, Burks, and Barrett (twice) all missed threes. When the Knicks go cold, they go ice cold.

And that’s a wrap, folks. The Knicks never had the lead tonight. A mostly healthy Pacers team is no pushover, and spotting them 11 points to start the game was a bad strategy. On to the next one.

NOTES

- All-time, the Knicks and the Pacers are now tied 112-112. A few of those games scarred me for life. You too, perhaps:

- Your Knick of the Game: RJ Barrett. In his fourth straight 20+ game, he notched 23 points, five rebounds, and three assists. 8-20 FG. 2-6 3PT. Not to belabor it, but he should have gone to line on at least two foiled drives.

- The Knicks entered the game averaging 16 threes and 40 attempts a game. Tonight they went 5-24 from deep. At one point, I nodded off and was visited by Jacob Marley, who warned about the ghosts of Knickerbockers past. I told him to go bother a Nets fan instead.

- The Knicks came in averaging 14 turnovers per game this season. Tonight they coughed up the ball 10 times. There’s one silver lining for ya.

- Kemba had been leading the NBA in 3-pt field goal percentage with 57%. D-Rose was sixth with 50%. Not so after tonight. Kemba went 0-5 and Derrick 0-1.

- Nerlens looked O.K. in his first game of the season. Two points, six rebounds, two assists, and one block in 18 minutes. According to Rebecca Haarlow, Noel’s been finessing his three point shot and wants to get in on the long-range action. Maybe Thibs should have let him air a few out tonight. Couldn’t have done any worse than the regular gunners.

- Mitchell Robinson came into the game with a league-leading offensive rating of 148.6 per 100 possessions. If this were playground basketball, we’d run one play: pass to big fella, big fella dunks. Repeat. The Pacers have a couple trees in their frontcourt, though. Tonight Mitch finished with three points, six rebounds, and had three blocks.

- Indiana picked 24-year old rookie Chris Duarte thirteenth in the draft. There had been scuttlebutt about New York possibly trading up to get him. As a starter, Duarte came into the game averaging 17.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 2.4 assists in 36 minutes. Talk about plug-and-play. Tonight the rook had 10 points, five rebounds, and two steals.

- Between Duarte, Evan Mobley (Cavs), Scottie Barnes (Raptors), and others, the Rookie of Year voting will be tight. Relax, Knicks fans, there’s still time Quinten Grimes to make his push.

- Good to see Caris LeVert healthy. He missed two months after having surgery to remove a cancerous mass from his kidney. Tonight he logged 21 points, two rebounds, five assists, one steal, and three blocks. He’s what the Pacers have been missing.

- Back in action, Malcolm Brogdon scored 17 points, eight rebounds, seven assists, and a block in 36 minutes. Brogdon shot 6-12 from the field. He is also what the Pacers have been missing.

- Dead Ringer for Jim Carrey, or is it just me?

San Antonio Spurs v Indiana Pacers Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Quoth charluca: “Ahhh, the good old fake comeback.” I knew these Pacers were better than their record. So did Tomato Can. Sucks to be right sometimes.

Ready the harpoons because the next challenge lies straight ahead, Ahab. On Friday, our heroes visit the World Champion Milwaukee Bucks. Cue the Robert Randolph, and safe travels, Knickerbockers.