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How the Pacers lost control in a ‘very embarrassing’ Game 5 loss to the Knicks



NEW YORK — After a 32-point blowout win in Game 4 in Indianapolis on Sunday afternoon, Indiana Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle did not doubt what was waiting for his team in Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night and the effort the Pacers would need to be the first road team to win a game in this series.

“Right now, it’s pretty simple,” Carlisle said before Game 5. “If you don’t hit somebody and go get the ball, you’re going to lose.”

That is exactly what happened to the Pacers on Tuesday night in the Knicks’ 121-91 Game 5 win.

By halftime, the Knicks had grabbed more offensive rebounds (12) than the Pacers had total rebounds (11). Add in nine first-half Pacers turnovers and the Knicks had taken 15 more shots than the Pacers did in the first 24 minutes. By the end of the game, the Knicks had attempted 29 more field goals than the Pacers.

“Very poor effort, obviously,” Carlisle said after the loss. “Lost every quarter. Got annihilated on loose balls and rebounds. Gave up 20 offensive rebounds and 29 more shots. So, we all own it, but very embarrassing. Very embarrassing and a hard lesson.”

While Knicks guard Jalen Brunson was undeniably effective with 44 points and seven assists in 43 minutes, the Pacers did not match the Knicks’ overall urgency, tenacity, physicality and desperation. Now the Pacers are one loss away from the end of their season.

“Well, there’s no excuses,” Carlisle said. “But all the guys on our roster, I believe it’s the first time they’ve been in a Game 5, tied at 2-2, going on the road. And so you learn a lot in those situations, very quickly.

“So, for us, give up 38 in the first quarter and lose by nine in the second and lose by six in the third and then get wiped out in the fourth, this is a different circumstance. And as a playoff series progresses, it’s going to get harder and harder.”

Things did not go poorly for the Pacers from the jump though. After five minutes, the Pacers led by seven points. From there, however, they lost control and no matter what Carlisle did, he couldn’t get his team to settle into the game and maintain control of the proceedings. In fact, with just 2:11 left in the first half, Carlisle had only two timeouts left for the game. He had taken five first-half timeouts to try to slow down the game and help the Pacers find their footing. It did not work.

Carlisle’s first timeout came after Obi Toppin, a player who had taken just 10 percent of his shots from the mid-range during the regular season, drove off a dribble handoff, settled for a fadeaway pull-up jumper and then failed to execute as a transition defender.

Just six total possessions later, Carlisle tried another timeout after Pacers center Myles Turner committed a turnover on a post-up and Knicks guard Miles McBride, who was substituted into the Game 5 starting lineup for Precious Achiuwa, got out on the run and found an easy two in transition.

That timeout was the final moment before the dam broke open and the Pacers lost control. The Pacers’ 25-24 advantage would be their last lead of the night as things quickly unraveled. The Knicks would take the lead and never relinquish it for the remainder of the game.

Once the Knicks were ahead, the Pacers played increasingly sloppy basketball to close out the first quarter.

Haliburton, who normally takes great care of the basketball, carelessly tossed a ball out of bounds looking for T.J. McConnell.

“I felt it was a little frenzied today,” Haliburton said. “Obviously, the Garden is a great environment and they have a great fanbase, but we just gotta do a better job coming together as a group. I feel like we kind of split there in the first quarter and then never really responded the right way. So, we gotta do a better job coming together as a group and that starts with me as the leader.”

After Haliburton’s pass to McConnell went out of bounds, Josh Hart hit a 3-pointer for the Knicks. Rather than slow the Pacers for the next possession, Haliburton pushed the pace. He raced up the sideline, got into the paint and then kicked it out to McConnell in the right corner. McConnell swung the ball to rookie Ben Sheppard, who has put together a strong postseason, but Sheppard committed a turnover on a pass after he was run off the 3-point line by the Knicks.

And like Haliburton, the Knicks pushed the pace, but even in the middle of a fast break, Brunson slowed them down and helped his teammates find the best shot.

For the second time in this series, Haliburton struggled to make an offensive impact at Madison Square Garden. While it wasn’t quite as drastic as taking only six shots in Game 1, Haliburton put up just 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting and five assists in Game 5. He never seemed to put his imprint on the game offensively, which was especially disastrous for a Pacers team lacking composure in their biggest game of the season.

While Carlisle and Haliburton were undoubtedly accurate in their assessments of the Pacers’ levels of competitiveness and composure Tuesday, the Knicks also had the tactical advantage. The Knicks’ decision to insert McBride into the starting lineup changed everything.

In their Game 4 blowout of the Knicks, the Pacers outcompeted the Knicks but the Pacers had the tactical advantage in Game 4 as well. With Achiuwa in the starting lineup, the Pacers cheated off of him and loaded up their help defense to slow down Brunson.

With McBride on the floor in Game 5, the Knicks could better space the floor and the Pacers could not build their help defense against Brunson in the same way. On top of that, Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau turned McBride into a screener for Brunson, knowing that the Pacers were hiding Haliburton on the 23-year-old reserve guard.

As Haliburton admitted after the game, he was not up to the task.

My shows were terrible in the first half,” Haliburton said. “Just didn’t do a good job of getting the ball out of Brunson’s hand. I got split on a couple, didn’t impact the ball, and he just got around me a few times.

“I thought it was better in the second half, but it’s something that obviously worked for them. They’re going to continue to go it in Game 6. So, like I said, I’ll watch the film, see where I can get better and improve on that going into next game.”

As the Pacers head home for Game 6, not only will they need to find the competitiveness and physicality that defined their victorious performances in Games 3 and 4, but they will also need to find a much higher level of execution on both ends of the floor. If the Pacers want to keep their season alive, Haliburton will need to exert greater control over the Pacers’ offensive efforts and compete at a higher level on the defensive end.

It all starts with their All-Star point guard.

(Top photo: Sarah Stier / Getty Images)


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