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Pacers 125, Knicks 111: “Gotta take some time to adjust and gel“

AB and Bogey finally spotted!

Indiana Pacers v New York Knicks Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

If you’re like me, you can relate.

The New York Knicks are right in the middle of a transaction. It’s painful, it sucks for the most part, and it’s going to last a few more days (and weeks) than it’s already spanned.

I started thinking about finding a new place in early December. I ramped up my efforts last month, by mid-to-late January. And now, as we’re about to split February into two equally balanced parts on both sides of next Thursday, I’m about to pull off the move.

There is this thing that happens when you move in which you, inevitably, forget to pack something to carry with you or, most probably, pack it but then lose it once you unwrap everything and place it properly in your place. It stinks, but looking at the bigger picture at the end of the day, it’s always for the better.

Hell, you’re now in a much nicer location, in a more lambent neighborhood, and you actually got rid of some junk—something you knew you needed to do but you had been waiting for until the proper moment truly arrived and called for it—while you were still able to keep your valuable stuff mostly untouched. It can will only get better.

Madison Square Garden hosted the visiting Indiana Pacers on Saturday with the Mecca faithful finally witnessing the first game of the embryo-final form of the OG Era Knicks. It sucked, it stunk, and it ended in a 125-111 loss.

The Knicks entered uncharted territory when they flipped the calendar page to Year 2024. Losing Mitchell Robinson wasn’t anything remotely new as the beloved country boy had been on the shelves ample time in seasons prior.

Transitioning from a core built around Julius Randle, Jalen Brunson, and RJ Barrett (along with super-sub Immanuel Quickley) to one in which the latter two were no more was going to be a sizable leap of faith. But oh boy, did it pay off.

With the Knicks furiously launching the OG Era at supersonic speed and winning five consecutive games at the start of January, ultimately putting up a ridiculous 14-2 record in the first month of the year, some regression to the mean was always going to happen and it did in the worst possible and truly disastrous way.

Julius Randle and OG Anunoby went down injured and, although we still didn’t know it, they were going to miss at least a month of play and most probably a few more weeks after that.

Jalen Brunson gave us a scare. Isaiah Hartenstein’s Achilles isn’t helping, either. Jericho Sims' proneness to getting ill in February isn’t funny. Do I need to mention the Knicks also lost Quentin Grimes of late, perhaps their lone second-unit creator on last Thursday’s trade deadline day?

And yet.

Sure, New York is a bad 1-3 in the last four games coming off a league-best nine-game winning streak. In those four games, the Knicks have not been able to count on, at different points, between four and eight of Mitch, Randle, Brunson, OG, Hartenstein, Sims, Grimes, Malachi Flynn, Alec Burks, and Bojan Bogdanovic because of an injury or being involved in a trade.

Between four and eight, each game. That’s nuts, and I’m not even throwing Fournier nor Arcidiacono in there out of respect to Thibs even though they were also missing Thursday’s matchup while packing their bags on their way to Detroit.

Going the other way and landing on Friday at the LaGuardia Airport were a couple of fresh faces (one known, the other not so much): AB and Bogey. The trade caught them by surprise on Thursday, but they finally debuted on Saturday.

Those are two more pieces in New York’s winning jigsaw, one that Tom Thibodeau hopes to solve at some point in the (near, we hope) future, but which could also take at least a few more months and perhaps (we’ve been told so) a full summer of dealing to bear gold-coated fruits.

Navigating this month with such a tenuous and shorthanded roster, for one reason or another, was always going to take a monster effort by everybody.

“We’re short-handed and we’re going to have to play a lot harder and a lot tougher,” Knicks coach Thibodeau said after the loss to Indy. “I’m disappointed in the result, but I’m not disappointed in our team.”

Bodies will return slowly but surely, and by the time we hit mid-April, there is a realistic chance all players, including Mitchell Robinson (once feared to be facing season-ending surgery/rehab), could be back for the playoffs. That’s when we will watch the final-final OG Era Knicks, one that when still not quite there at the start of January (no Mitch, no Burks, no Bogey) was slashing foes in bunches one after another.

Don’t get me wrong, no games are won on paper and I’m here sugarcoating the ongoing precarious situation. One-of-four is one-of-four and here’s what’s coming while most banged-up Knicks will still be rehabbing their injuries and trying to attempt their respective comebacks.

New York (33-20) is “comfortably” in possession of the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference as I type these words, 1.5 games above Philly and trailing Milly by just one game. Getting to the All-Star break with a 34-21 record (that is, splitting next week’s couple of games) would be enough to return to action a week and a half from today to face the Sixers on the road in a pivotal, must-win game, still with chances of staying above Philadelphia on the standings.

Outside of Boston (40-12) no team in the East is a lock to avoid the play-in, so no win is guaranteed and no loss is going to be meaningless from now on.

Good news: Brunson returned on Saturday and bagged 39 points without getting burned (37 minutes) in his return to action in a game that was out of reach a few minutes after the halftime break.

Burks and Bogey made their debuts contributing a solid 22 and 11 points respectively with the former having an extraordinary fourth quarter and the latter still trying to find his footing (3-of-10 from the floor) on the proper side of New York.

Miles McBride was the only other player available off the bench, logged 11 minutes, scored six points but didn’t really impact the game. Things will soon change.

Hell, Taj Gibson started the freaking game for the Knicks, something he had not done since he was still with the Washington Wizards more than a year ago. He lasted 19 minutes and looked gassed, which is already commendable but tells you all you need to know about the goddam fights these guys are getting into these days.

Precious Achiuwa, a young and spry guy, was probably terrified when Thibs informed him he was in for 40+ minutes of play, ultimately getting 43 on the day. Josh Hart played 36 (four points, 10 rebounds, five assists) and Donte DiVincenzo logged 39 (14 points, three boards, four dimes, one steal, one block).

And still.

The Knicks “only” lost by 14 points even though they shot a putrid 47.6% from the field, a ridiculous 31.3% from beyond the 3-point arc, and only seemed to find their way at the charity stripe connecting on 21-of-23 attempts.

They were outrebounded 41-32 in a low-volume-boards affair. They completed 16 assists to Indiana’s 30, and they lost the battle in the paint with 54 points in the coated area to the Pacers’ 62.

That’s an awful performance, and even moving the needle to its average position would have meant a close (closer, at the very least) game might have been played on Saturday, Feb. 10. With three starters missing. With two debutants. With a three-man bench. With one player returning from a missed game.

Be patient, Knicks Nation. Things cannot be better than they are now but the future is so bright we might have to wear sunglasses.

Vibes immaculate.