It was a night of honors for the New York Knicks (31-17). First, head coach Tom Thibodeau was named Eastern Conference Coach of the Month for January. Then Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle were named All-Star reserves. Congratulations, fellas!
There was still basketball to be played, of course. Tonight the Knicks welcomed the sharpshooting Indiana Pacers (27-21) to Madison Square Garden. In their previous meeting, the Pacers beat the Knicks 140-126 when Tyrese Haliburton dished 23 assists. The Knicks came into tonight having won eight straight but would be shorthanded, missing Randle (dislocated shoulder), OG Anunoby (elbow inflammation), and Quentin Grimes (sprained knee). You’re forgiven if you had your doubts about the outcome.
The defense was shaky through the first quarter, and the Knicks shooting was horrendous (8-of-38 from downtown overall). The Knicks tightened up the D, however, and limited the league’s top-scoring team to just 22 points in the second quarter. With an eight-man roster, New York battled through the third period with the resilience of a champion and at times this game felt like game seven of a playoff series. In the fourth quarter, the Knicks completed their comeback. Thanks to the now-old-hat heroics of Jalen Brunson (40 points, 10 bruises), double-doubles by Isaiah Hartenstein (12 points, 19 rebounds) and Precious Achiuwa (12 points, 16 rebounds, and a team-high 43 minutes), plus 16 bench points from Miles McBride, the Knicks came away with the win, 109-105.
Neither the Knicks nor the Hoosiers played much defense at the outset, with both teams trading buckets. When the visitors took flight on a 10-2 run for a seven-point lead, the frustration was palpable and visible—Donte DiVincenzo shoved a yappy Tyrese Haliburton at the six-minute mark and received a technical foul for his folly.
Buckets absolve a multitude of sins. DiVo sank a career-high nine three-pointers on Tuesday, and it sure seemed like the Big Ragu would continue that spicy shooting when he made three of his first six longball attempts. (Spoiler: he wouldn’t.) He led the Knicks in the first quarter with 13 points. Isaiah Hartenstein added four assists in the period and also dropped the rock on Myles Turner’s dome. Like so:
Hartenstein over Turner with the cleanup ♂️ pic.twitter.com/EQa3dS8hyy— Knicks Videos (@sny_knicks) February 2, 2024
In Q1, the Knicks shot 36% and offered no resistance as Indiana converted 13 of 26 field goal attempts. Big surprise, the home team was down 36-26 heading into the second quarter.
OAKAAKUYOAK Obadiah Richard Toppin Jr. checked in midway through Q1 and posted four points. In the second period, his triple at the 10:30 mark gave the Pacers a 15-point advantage, their largest yet. Indy was dominating the shorthanded Knicks on the boards and fastbreaks. The Bockers made gestures at fighting back, however. A more tenacious defense limited Indiana to 22 points in the second period, but New York’s shots still clanged like kettle drums as they made only three of 14 longball attempts.
In the first half, Aaron Nesmith led Indiana with 17 points on 6-of-8 shooting. Brunson topped New York with 21 points and was clobbered on drive after drive without a whistle. Give our All-Star point guard respect, refs! Undeterred, his delicate jumper with .01 seconds remaining closed the score to 58-51 by halftime.
The Knicks’ bench was reduced to Miles McBride, Malachi Flynn, and Jericho Sims. That trio was outscored by their Indiana counterparts, 21-6. With baskets hard to come by, New York would need to rely on defense post-intermission.
Your first-half shot chart:
New York needed someone to share Jalen Brunson’s burden. Isaiah Hartenstein to the rescue! He beasted and feasted, scoring four points, three rebounds, and a block in the third quarter. Isaiah tweaked his ankle, but basketball robots don’t experience pain like you mortals. At 5:30, he wrestled Pascal Siakam to the floor and Precious managed to rip the ball away. If something good happened in this quarter, Hartenstein was somehow involved.
Josh Hart laid a goose egg in the first half to be the only non-scoring Knick. His effort was as good as ever, but nothing went in. His only points came from five free throws. Nevertheless, his 12 rebounds, solid defense, and two blocks helped to keep the Knicks alive.
Once again the Knicks had mostly contained the high-scoring Pacers for a quarter, surrendering only 26 points, but poor shooting prevented our heroes from attaining a lead. The Knicks had missed 17 three-point attempts before Deuce McBride finally swished a triple late in the quarter. Then, with under a minute remaining, McBride’s AND-1 play and another difficult layup helped the Knicks finish the period down 84-79. Deuce was loose!
And Deuce wasn’t ready to quit, yet. He added two triples in the final frame on his way to a 16-point night. The Knicks needed every one of ‘em.
So Deuce McBride just going to hoop like Steph now? pic.twitter.com/8coGB7MTRN— Esfandiar Baraheni (@JustEsBaraheni) February 2, 2024
After a masterpiece on Tuesday, DiVincenzo shot a ghastly 4-of-16 from deep. But he did manage to log 20 points, kept contributing on defense, and stayed active in the passing lanes. When Donte finally got one to fall with 10:30 remaining, New York was within two points. By midway through the frame, when All-Star Jalen Brunson swished from deep, the score was knotted up at 91. When ALL-STAR Jalen added a scoop layup a minute later, the Knicks had their first lead since early in the game. Then when ALL-STAR POINT GUARD JALEN BRUNSON netted a 15-footer, the Knicks were up by four.
The Knicks benefited from Haliburton’s hamstring, which has him on a minutes restriction. Even without Haliburton, this game had a wild playoff intensity. The Garden was shaking. When it mattered, the Knicks defense held Indiana without a point for over five minutes.
Precious Achiuwa must be in incredible shape because that dude played 43 minutes and was indispensable throughout. He finished with 12 points, 16 boards, three steals, two and blocks. He did get burned trying to catch a charge from Jalen Smith with under three minutes left, but we applaud the effort.
Pascal Siakam scored to cut the lead to one, then Ben Sheppard (not of Soundgarden) punched Jalen Brunson in the face (which wasn’t called) and Smith easily dropped the loose ball in for a go-ahead bucket. Can Brunson be stopped? No chance, underpants.
With one good eye, THE ALL-STAR JALEN BRUNSON drove the lane, was fouled, and swished his shot. He missed the free throw, but Hartenstein (of course) was quick on the boards, the Knicks reset, and Donte hit a midrange bucket. On the other end, Precious (of course) blocked his old teammate Siakam and then tipped in a bucket for a five-point lead with one minute left. There was no looking back.
PRECIOUS ACHIUWA WITH THE TIP AND THE GARDEN IS ROARING pic.twitter.com/XfJC7S758Y— Knicks Videos (@sny_knicks) February 2, 2024
If not the best NBA team (but they’re damned close), these New York Knicks are easily the most fun team to watch. Up next, the Los Angeles Lakers pay a visit for a late one at MSG on Saturday. Congrats Jalen, Julius, and Thibs. Sleep sweet, Knickerbockers.