Before the season started, it would have been hard to believe that a matchup between these two teams in January would be an exciting and interesting one between two potentially playoff-bound teams given the fact that the Knicks were expected to struggle to make the play-in game, and the Pacers were expected to do even worse. But that is exactly what we’re getting tonight. The Pacers may potentially be without a couple rotation pieces in Aaron Nesmith (non-COVID illness) and Knicks killer T.J. McConnell (shoulder) who are both listed as day-to-day, and the Knicks will still be missing RJ Barrett yet these two teams are in the midst of very solid seasons that have seen the 23-18 Pacers and 22-19 Knicks climb their way up to the sixth seed and seventh seed respectively. In a battle between two teams that have compelling arguments for the most overachieving team in the league so far, the Knicks will look to make it two wins against the Pacers this season and tie them for the sixth seed in the conference.
Jalen Brunson has been on absolute tear in the new year averaging an insane 33PPG, 6APG, and 4.5RPG on an scorching 52.1% from the field and 46.2% from 3 in his last four games. He is notably shooting 71% from the free throw line (way lower than his career and season averages) and the 3.5TOPG (way higher than his career and season averages) aren’t ideal but that is nitpicking to the highest degree and I digress. The Knicks are 3-1 during that stretch and were it not for yet another late game collapse and Milwaukee shooting the lights out, they would have been 4-0. Brunson, with Barrett still out, will likely be leaned on heavily against a Pacers team that has a very good point guard of their own.
“Mr. Supposed Wannabe Fake All-Star with the big miss…He’s a very good player, he’s not gonna make the All-Star team; a guy like Julius Randle or Jalen Brunson will make it over Tyrese Haliburton. Tonight we saw why”— New York Basketball (@NBA_NewYork) December 19, 2022
— Wally chose violence pic.twitter.com/xaeUbXLvGC
And that point guard, is Tyrese Haliburton (6’5”, 185 lb.). The third-year point guard has had a breakout season averaging 20.3PPG and a league-leading 10.3APG with 4RPG and 1.8SPG on an incredibly efficient 48% from the field, 40.2% from 3, and 88.5% from the line. While Haliburton did struggle against the Knicks earlier this season going 5-16 for 15 points and 10 assists he seems to be extra motivated for tonight’s game, thanks to MSG’s Wally Szczerbiak calling him “Mr. Supposed, wannabe, fake All-Star”. This should be an incredibly fun matchup to watch between two great players who could be fighting each other for one of the last All-Star spots.
“Yes. Yes.”— New York Basketball (@NBA_NewYork) January 11, 2023
— Tyrese Haliburton on whether he’s looking forward to playing the Knicks Wednesday
“After the [last] Knicks game…Won’t name any names, but there was some fuel to that fire that sparked our All-Star…Tyrese”
— Haliburton’s Pacers teammate TJ McConnell pic.twitter.com/1aRdHosRMY
Fresh off of yet another great performance, Immanuel Quickley will get the start again. Since becoming a starter, Quickley has averaged 20.3PPG, 5.3RPG, and 5.9APG on 42.5% shooting while playing amazing defense. The Knicks will look for Quickley to continue providing the spark he so often provides and will hope that he can keep being the number three guy that the Knicks so desperately need when Barrett is out.
Quickley will be matched up against Andrew Nembhard (6’5”, 193 lb.) who is averaging 8.4PPG, 3.7APG, and 3.1RPG while shooting 47.6% from the field and 40% from 3. Now those aren’t eye-popping offensive stats for the rookie but he has already had some impressive games including a 31-point performance against the defending champions back in December. Nehmbard will rarely dominate a game but his efficiency, versatility and defensive energy make him an important part of what the Pacers have been able to accomplish this season.
Quentin Grimes, who’s impact doesn’t always fully show up on stats, much like Nehmbard, will continue to get the start. Grimes is averaging career-highs across the board with averages of 10.2PPG, 3.3RPG, 2APG, .8SPG, and .5BPG while shooting 45.8% from the field. He is coming off of a rather ugly offensive game though as he went 1-7 from the field so hopefully he can bounce back.
Grimes’ counterpart will be Buddy Hield (6’4”, 220 lb.), who is having an incredibly solid season averaging 18PPG, 2.7APG, and 4.8RPG on 45.4% from the field and 42.6% from 3 on 9 attempts per game. The former Oklahoma Sooner was incredibly productive against the Knicks in December, going off for 23 points on 9-16 from the field and 5-10 from the field. As the Knicks are susceptible to giving up a lot of open 3’s, Hield, one of the best shooters in the league, could have himself another big game. Watch out.
Julius Randle, who has been everything Knicks fans wanted, and more, will look to get back on track after what was one of, if not, his worst offensive games of the season. Randle, who is averaging 24.4PPG, 10.1RPG, and 3.8APG, did score 25 points against the Bucks on Monday but went just 9-29 from the field in the losing effort. The veteran big man does deserve credit though, as he never let his offense get in the way of his defensive energy. Randle kept his head high and continued to battle on that end of the floor, signifying his continued emotional and mental growth. Because of the way Randle had been playing for the last few weeks, he gets a very fair pass for his performance against the Bucks, but they’ll need him to get it going again.
Aaron Nesmith (6’5”, 211 lb.) will continue to get the start if he can feel better by game time but as mentioned above, he is dealing with a non-COVID related illness and did not practice yesterday. If the third year forward out of Vanderbilt is a no go, then expect Jalen Smith (6’10”, 215 lb.) to get the start. Smith is currently averaging 10.1PPG, 6.2RPG, and .9BPG and has already started in 27 of 39 games this season.
Mitchell Robinson, who is averaging 7.5PPG, 9RPG and 1.7BPG while shooting 69.3% from the field, will continue to man the middle for the Knicks. The fifth-year center, who remains such an important part of what the Knicks do defensively should be able to stay out of foul trouble in this one as the Pacers lack a dominant offensive force down low and do not have many guys that can constantly get to the line. That being said, he, as well as Thibodeau’s strategy and scheme, will be tested as his matchup, Myles Turner shoots just under four 3’s a game and has burned the Knicks as a pick and pop player.
The aforementioned Myles Turner (6’11”, 250 lb.), is currently having his best offensive season by far. Seemingly perpetually on the cusp of being traded, Turner has managed to average 17PPG on 55.2% from the field, both of which are career-highs. Turner still struggles to be a consistent rebounder, averaging just 7.9RPG but he’s still one of the best rim protectors in the league, averaging 2.3BPG. As is always the case when the Knicks play big men who can shoot, this will be a matchup to keep an eye on.
This game should be a doozy. Not only is it a game between two overperforming teams that are right next to each other in the standings, we also have the narrative of what this rivalry used to be, as well as the storyline of the Tyrese Haliburton vs. Wally Sczcerbiak battle. We also can’t forget about the eyes that will be on Randle after his poor offensive performance, and the battle between the potential first-time All-Stars either. And while the trajectory of these two teams have been similar (young teams with low expectations, surprising everybody) stylistically, these two teams couldn’t be further apart. The Pacers, at least when healthy, deploy a system in which all five guys on the court are solid to great shooters from 3 and rely heavily on the outside game. And because of that, they’ve managed to rank fifth in the league in 3PM per game with 14.4 while ranking ninth in 3P%. Meanwhile, the Knicks 16th in 3PM per game with just 11.9, do more of their damage from inside. New York is 15th in the league in 2PM per game with 29.2 while Indiana ranks fifth worst in that category, making just 26.9 per game. The personnel and coaching difference can also be seen in the rebounding category, where the Knicks rank third in the league with 47.2RPG while the Pacers are sixth worst in the league with just 42RPG. All this to say that this game, much like most other games to be fair, will come down to which team imposes and executes their strategy better and if the Pacers make shots.
With the Knicks being just as reliant on 2-pointers and they are on 3-pointers, they’ll have a hard time keeping up with the Pacers scoring if they are making their 3’s. And with the way that the Knicks defend the 3, there’s a solid chance that Hield and or Turner, both of whom have had massive games against the Knicks in the past, have an absolute field day. And we haven’t even gotten to Haliburton, who’ll want to continue to build on what has been an amazing season with a statement performance in front of Sczcerbiak. That being said, we also can’t forget that the Knicks beat the Pacers in Indiana just a few weeks ago. While the Knicks will be without Barrett, who dropped 24 points on 10-19 shooting in that game, they will have an reinvigorated Quickley and the Pacers may be without Nesmith, who dropped an efficient 23 points on them. I fully expect Randle to bounce back from his nightmare offensive performance with a solid game and expect Brunson, who had 30 points against Haliburton last time around, to continue his hot streak. This should be another close game but I have the Knicks winning 115-112.