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Pacers’ blowout loss to Knicks, Caitlin Clark’s struggles in WNBA debut make for rough night for Indiana basketball

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It was a rough Tuesday night for Indiana basketball.

The Pacers suffered a 121-91 drubbing by the Knicks in a pivotal Game 5 loss at Madison Square Garden, leaving them one loss away from elimination in their second-round NBA playoff series.

About 130 miles to the northeast, the Indiana Fever dropped their season opener, 92-71, to the Connecticut Sun, during which rookie phenom Caitlin Clark struggled in her much-anticipated WNBA debut.

The Pacers returned to New York with the momentum of back-to-back victories in Games 3 and 4 in Indianapolis, evening the best-of-seven series at 2-2.

Indiana won Game 4 on Sunday in blowout fashion, steamrolling the Knicks, 121-89, in an outing decided so quickly that both teams rested their starters for the final quarter.

But the Knicks returned the favor Tuesday, routing the Pacers, 121-91, in a game they outrebounded Indiana, 53-29; forced 18 turnovers; scored 26 second-chance points; and shot 47-of-101 from the field.

“Very poor effort, obviously,” Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said afterward. “Lost every quarter. Got annihilated on loose balls and rebounds. Gave up 20 offensive rebounds and 29 more shots. We all own it, but very embarrassing. Very embarrassing and a hard lesson.”

The lopsided loss sends the Pacers back to Indianapolis down 3-2 for Friday night’s Game 6.

“They killed us on the glass better than they probably have any game all series,” said Pacers star Tyrese Haliburton, who scored 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting. “We just didn’t match that intensity level all night. Cut it to seven there, early in the second half, got some momentum going, but they answered right back.”

Clark, meanwhile, scored a Fever-high 20 points but shot 5-of-15 from the field and committed 10 turnovers. She picked up two early fouls and missed her first four shot attempts before scoring her first basket at the 5:24 mark of the second quarter.

“Obviously, I’m disappointed, and nobody likes to lose,” Clark said afterward. “That’s how it is, but I don’t think you can beat yourself up too much about one game. I don’t think that’s gonna help this team.”

Clark, who faced tough defense from Connecticut’s DiJonai Carrington, referenced the physicality of Tuesday’s game multiple times during her postgame press conference.

“I thought it took me a little while to settle into the game,” Clark said. “I thought the second half was a lot better, minus some of the turnovers, but just getting more comfortable, and that’s just gonna come with experience and getting to play with these girls.”

Selected first overall in last month’s WNBA Draft, Clark arrived with tremendous hype after a four-year collegiate career at Iowa, where she left as the NCAA’s all-time leading scorer.

Her home debut is set to take place Thursday night at Indianapolis’ Gainbridge Fieldhouse — the day before Game 6 between the Knicks and Pacers is scheduled at the arena.

“We’ve got to make some serious adjustments for Game 6,” Carlisle said, “and we’ve got to get out of here and get home.”

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