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Knicks Refuse to Embrace Excuses After Game 4 Blowout



Mere steps away from a major franchise landmark, one could claim that the New York Knicks are running out of gas.

The Knicks endured their worst loss of the 2023-24 season at the worst possible time, dropping Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals 121-89 at Gainbridge Fieldhouse on Sunday afternoon. The Indiana Pacers’ series equalizer might not have even been as close as the lopsided scoreboard indicated: New York fell behind by 23 in the first period and never threatened from there on out, setting up a best-of-three finale that tips off at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night (8 p.m. ET, TNT).

“We’re disappointed,” Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau said in the somber aftermath, per Brian Windhorst of ESPN. “We can’t have a hangover, we have to fix it and we have to come with a will and a determination to respond to what happened.”

The Knicks jumped out to a 2-0 series lead over the Pacers and seemed well on their way to their first conference finals since 2000. But the injury bug has once again invaded the New York locker room, one that has denied the Knicks the services of both OG Anunoby and Mitchell Robinson during the latter stages of the series. Franchise face Jalen Brunson is also dealing with the aftershocks of a foot injury that kept him out of a good portion of Game 2.

May 12, 2024; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA;  New York Knicks guard Jalen Brunson (11) dribbles the

May 12, 2024; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; New York Knicks guard Jalen Brunson (11) dribbles the / Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Brunson once again shouldered responsibility for the defeat, metaphorically tearing up the injury report when asked if it could be used as evidence for the Knicks’ decline.

“We can talk about fresher legs and you can give us all the pity that we want,” Brunson said in Windhorst’s report. “Yeah, we’re shorthanded, but that doesn’t matter right now. We have what we have and we need to go forward with that.”

“There is no excuse. There’s no excuse whatsoever. If we lose, we lose. That’s what that was.”

The Knicks’ season, which has also lost three-time All-Star Julius Randle and depth star Bojan Bogdanovic, has been defined by players stepping up when needed, and, to Burnson’s point, no one did so on Sunday. Each would readily admit it as well, as Brunson continued to insist that he has recovered from the ill effects of the Game 2 woes despite another sour shooting performance (6-of-17).

Randle replacement Josh Hart, for example, finally got to rest after playing four complete games this postseason, but that was only because Thibodeau mercifully removed his primary men once it became clear no comeback was in store. Hart had just two points and three rebounds in defeat, shooting just 1-of-6 from the field.

“I’m supposed to be the energy guy of the team and I didn’t do anything,” Hart said, per Windhorst. “I gave nothing. I put that on my shoulders.”

Donte DiVincenzo, the headliner of the Knicks’ outside woes, admitted that even the Pacers’ second unit handily outplayed the top New Yorkers. DiVincenzo, whose 35 points in Game 3 served as a silver lining amidst Brunson’s struggles, shot 1-of-6 from three-point range, part of a 7-of-37 performance overall. The resulting success rate of 18.9 percent was the lowest in Knicks playoff history with a minimum of 20 tries.

May 2, 2024; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; New York Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau during the

May 2, 2024; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; New York Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau during the / Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

“(Indiana) came out and hit us first and kept going. They just competed harder from start to finish,” DiVincenzo said, per Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post. “Their bench guys came in and competed harder, their starters competed harder. They just played with an edge we didn’t play with.” 

Through it all, lingering hope festers through examples of recent history: the precedent set this season won’t let the Knicks hang their heads or lick their wounds. New York has been macabrely blessed with several opportunities to quit and move on this season but has instead responded with the most successful campaign they’ve had in a decade, including 50 wins and the second seed on the Eastern bracket.

Whether the Knicks can land those two elusive wins and secure the conference final landmark … one that would label this season an undoubted success … remains to be seen, but the Knicks have shown that they’e more than capable of pulling it off. While that makes efforts like Sunday’s all the more heartbreaking, it’s perhaps the one thing keeping their optimism afloat after consecutive no-shows in Indianapolis.

“This team has responded all year, so that’s what we’re expecting to do,” Thibodeau said, per Windhorst. “We got to put the work into it and be ready to go.”

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