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How Pacers are trying to wear Jalen Brunson down as Knicks star deals with foot injury



The Pacers can’t guard Jalen Brunson. They don’t delude themselves into thinking they can.

But they hope their full-court pressure can wear him down, along with his decimated Knicks.

That’s Indiana’s best chance of winning Tuesday’s Game 5 at the Garden — and the Eastern Conference semis.

“[Brunson and Donte DiVincenzo] are great players, and when you’re guarding great players you have to try to make things as tough as possible. … We need to keep creating energy on the defensive end and make them work as much as possible,” said T.J. McConnell, addressing the need to pressure Brunson full court.

The Pacers have limited Jalen Brunson in the last two games. Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

“It’s really important. His ascension to what he’s become, not many people have made that jump quite like he did. We need to make him work as much as possible and try to exert as much energy because if you make him comfortable there’s not many people in this league that can guard him. He’s obviously a great player and we’ve got to keep picking him up 94 feet and try to make things tough on him.”

Brunson has blossomed into an MVP candidate. The Pacers saw Brunson torch them for 36.0 points on .568/.400 shooting in their two losses in the Garden, a combined plus-38.

But he injured his foot in Game 2, and has dealt not only with that, but the defense of Aaron Nesmith and Indiana’s full-court pressure.

Indiana held Brunson to just 22.0 points on .372/.182 shooting in their two home wins, a minus-33.

As the series moves back to the Garden for Game 5, the Pacers see their press paying dividends against an injury-riddled Knicks squad.

Jalen Brunson averaged just 22 points in the two games in Indianapolis. Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

“Yeah, I think it does wear on them,” said Myles Turner. “Their starters play 40, 45 minutes a game, and to be able to sit our guys and hit in waves is something that’s definitely been beneficial for us.

“Picking them up full court and pressuring, denying and just playing that brand of basketball speeds the game up for them. But it’s just part of our brand, as well … and we’re going to keep playing our brand of basketball..”

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That brand has largely been porous defense.

They had the worst defensive rating of any team entering the playoffs, and — going into Sunday — they were next-to-last in the postseason in both defensive rating (119.9) and scoring defense (113.1). Only the Suns were worse, and they got swept.

Then came Game 4, when their pressure helped smother the Knicks to the tune of just 14 first-quarter points.

Can Jalen Brunson rebound in Game 5? Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

As the visitors visibly ran out of gas — shooting 6 of 23, and 1 of 8 from deep — Indiana ran them into the ground.

“We started the right way. Played with pressure, played with force, played with aggression on both sides of the ball,” said Nesmith.

“The way that we play, it’s hard to keep up with us, our pace, our force our aggression. We’ve just got to keep wearing on them like that, and keep playing our game. … We’re gonna continue to do what we do over here.”

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