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Tuesday’s NBA playoff takeaways: Knicks, Nuggets take series leads

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By Fred Katz, Eric Nehm, Tony Jones and Jon Krawczynski

The energy at Madison Square Garden was palpable as New York Knicks fans started a “Knicks in six!” chant during Game 5’s closing minutes. The Knicks ended up getting a 121-91 win over the Indiana Pacers to take a 3-2 series lead.

Jalen Brunson continued his year-long dominance, finishing with a game-high 44 points, seven assists and four rebounds on 18-of-35 shooting. It was Brunson’s fifth 40-point performance of these playoffs.

New York is now just one win away from the Eastern Conference finals.

Elsewhere, Nikola Jokić put on a masterclass in the Denver Nuggets’ 112-97 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves at Ball Arena, having his way with Rudy Gobert and finishing with 40 points, 13 assists and seven rebounds in the process. The Nuggets are up 3-2 and the Timberwolves are in jeopardy of losing four straight to the defending champions.

Denver held Anthony Edwards to just 18 points and nine assists on 5-of-15 shooting. The Timberwolves’ budding superstar will have to piece together one of his best games of the postseason to keep his team’s Western Conference finals hopes alive Thursday.

Knicks 121, Pacers 91

Series: New York leads 3-2

Game 6: Friday in Indiana

Brunson slices up Pacers defenders

For all the talk about overextended energy, Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau running his players for too many minutes and New York’s Game 4 no-show, there was one main issue that plagued this team: Brunson did not look like himself.

Brunson could not create space against Aaron Nesmith in Games 3 or 4 in Indiana, and much of the credit went to the Pacers wing for that. But Brunson, who was nursing a foot injury he suffered at the beginning of this series, also wasn’t himself.

Brunson can generate separation against anyone. He did it during the regular season against perimeter stalwarts like Herb Jones and Jrue Holiday. He should have been able to do it against the Pacers. But he could not. And the Knicks, in turn, did not look like themselves either.

The most-important aspect of Game 5 was always Brunson’s health. If he could move, if he could bust open for those crafty looks he loves so much, then the Knicks stood a chance — if not better than that.

This is why. Brunson sliced up the Pacers on Tuesday, getting to whichever spots he wanted.

Especially with all the injuries to key players, the Knicks go as Brunson does.

And when he’s healthy, he tends to go quite well, as he showed once again Tuesday night. — Fred Katz, Knicks beat writer

GO DEEPER

Knicks return to form in Game 5 win over Pacers

Pacers unravel after handling early onslaught

After a blowout win in Game 4, the Pacers knew they were going to get the Knicks’ best, but that didn’t end up mattering Tuesday. They handled New York’s onslaught early and took a seven-point lead five minutes into Game 5, but then slowly unraveled to end the first quarter.

Rick Carlisle kept calling for stoppages, but nothing seemed to calm his team as it kept committing turnovers and giving up offensive rebounds. With 2:11 left in the first half, Indiana trailed by 18 points and Carlisle had already taken five of his seven timeouts.

By the end of the first half, Brunson had tallied 28 of his 44 points, the Knicks had grabbed 12 offensive rebounds, the Pacers had committed nine turnovers and New York had taken 15 more shots than Indiana. The Pacers were lucky to only be down by 15 at the half.

Myles Turner hit three 3-pointers in the first two minutes of the third quarter to bring Indiana within seven, but a scoreless drought of over six minutes shortly thereafter eliminated any hope the Pacers might have had of stealing Game 5.

Now, they head back to Indianapolis with their season on the line Friday. — Eric Nehm, senior NBA writer


(Photo: Matthew Stockman / Getty Images)

Nuggets 112, Timberwolves 97

Series: Denver leads 3-2

Game 6: Thursday in Minnesota

Nuggets may have solved Minnesota

Game 6 of this series will be Thursday night, in the friendly confines of the Target Center for the Timberwolves. But it really feels like this series is over, with the Nuggets unlocking the Timberwolves in an irreversible way.

On paper, this series is still close, with Denver taking a 3-2 lead, but the Nuggets have won three straight. Two of those were in Minneapolis. The third was a 112-97 win on Tuesday night in a game Denver dominated in the second half.

The Nuggets have seemingly figured out Edwards. And Jokić is toying with Gobert in biblical fashion.

It would take the strongest team in the world mentally to flip what’s happening in this series, and the Wolves don’t seem like that team. The path to next week’s conference finals has never seemed more straight for Denver. The Nuggets have played three consecutive games of almost flawless basketball.

Jokić has steadily become more dominant, and he capped it off Tuesday night with a 40-point performance for the ages.

If nothing else, the first two games of this series awakened the Nuggets. But they are officially back, officially here. They look like a prime threat to win a second consecutive NBA title. — Tony Jones, NBA writer

Jokić picks apart Rudy Gobert

Gobert, the four-time Defensive Player of the Year must rediscover his defensive mojo if the Timberwolves are going to force a Game 7.

Jokić attacked Gobert relentlessly in Game 5, getting whatever he wanted to render Minnesota’s defense null and void in a Game 5 wipeout.

The Wolves have typically resisted putting Gobert on Jokić straight up, preferring Karl-Anthony Towns to guard the MVP and Gobert to lurk off Aaron Gordon for help. It worked well in a Game 1 win in Denver, but there were several extended stretches of the game on Sunday in which Gobert was the one guarding Jokić. It  did not go well.

Gobert had plenty of shot contests that no other other player in the world besides Jokić could overcome. But there were also far too many times when Jokić made it look way too easy against the leader of Minnesota’s defense. The Nuggets’ MVP seemed to relish every chance he had going at Gobert, making quick, decisive moves to the basket for easy buckets that prevented the Wolves from mounting any sustained runs.

Gobert missed Game 2 for the birth of his son, which also happened to be Minnesota’s best defensive game of the series. They are 0-3 since he returned, the first time all season the Wolves have lost three straight games.

This certainly was not all on Gobert. Mike Conley missed the game with Achilles soreness, Edwards was just 5-for-15, and Naz Reid struggled with foul trouble and turnovers.

But this team’s identity all season long has been defense, and Gobert is the head of the snake. Jokić dominates every player that is put in front of him, but it shouldn’t be as easy as it was for him. If it is Thursday in Minneapolis, this season will be over for the Timberwolves. — Jon Krawczynski, Timberwolves beat writer

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

How Rudy Gobert, proud Wolves defense got shredded by unstoppable Nikola Jokić

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(Top photo: Sarah Stier / Getty Images)

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