2024 Playoffs: East Semifinal | Knicks (2) vs. Pacers (6)

Knicks-Pacers: 4 things to look for in Game 3

Holding 2-0 lead, New York hits the road even more shorthanded, while Indiana looks to remain hot at home.

Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau is basically playing 7 players, and those minutes can add up quickly in the grueling playoffs.

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INDIANAPOLIS — The New York Knicks hold a 2-0 series lead over the Indiana Pacers in Eastern Conference semifinals, but it’s not a commanding 2-0 series by any means. Consider …

  • Both games were within two points in the last five minutes, and though the Knicks won Game 2 by nine, they did it with the most efficient offensive game for any team in the last two postseasons.
  • New York is now more shorthanded than it was 48 hours ago (see below).
  • The Pacers have won eight consecutive games at home, scoring almost 127 points per 100 possessions over those eight games.

The Pacers also haven’t lost three straight games since Feb. 2, though the Knicks remain relentless and certainly aren’t going to concede anything in these playoffs.

Here are some things to keep an eye out for in Game 3 on Friday (7 ET, ESPN):

1. Anunoby out, Brunson questionable for Knicks

The Knicks will be down another man on Friday. Already missing Julius Randle, Mitchell Robinson and Bojan Bogdanovic, the Knicks will be without OG Anunoby, who suffered a left hamstring strain in the third quarter of Game 2.

In addition, Jalen Brunson is listed as questionable, having suffered a right foot injury in the first half on Wednesday. Of course, he returned after that injury to play all 24 second-half minutes and score 24 of his 29 points.

The Knicks aren’t unfamiliar to playing without Anunoby, but they were just 13-14 in games he missed over the last few months of the season. And with him out, head coach Tom Thibodeau will either have to shorten his rotation from seven to six players or use a reserve that he hasn’t shown any trust in to date.

The top candidate would seemingly be Alec Burks, who was acquired in a highly praised deal at the trade deadline. The veteran was dusted off (after not playing in any of the Knicks’ first seven playoff games) when Brunson was injured on Wednesday, but played just 44 seconds before being sat back down.

Thibodeau probably has more trust in big man Jericho Sims (who’s never played in the postseason), but playing Sims over Burks give the Knicks three bigs in a seven-man rotation and less-than-ideal spacing around Brunson.

To that same issue, the Knicks’ coach will also have to decide on a fifth starter to replace Anunoby. Precious Achiuwa played the entire fourth quarter of Game 2, with eight of those 12 minutes coming alongside starting center Isaiah Hartenstein.

But the Knicks’ lineup with Miles McBride as the fifth guy had much more success than the lineup with Achiuwa in the regular season …

Knicks with Brunson, DiVincenzo, Hart and Hartenstein on the floor, regular season

Fifth player MIN OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg
Achiuwa 189 119.5 113.0 +6.4
McBride 172 138.2 107.1 +31.1

OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

2. Can either team get consistent stops?

The Knicks and Pacers have combined to score 128.7 points per 100 possessions over the first two games, what would be the highest combined mark for a playoff series in the 28 years for which we have play-by-play data (and likely NBA history).

In that sense, it’s more of a Pacers series than a Knicks series, but it’s New York that has won both games.

The Pacers, with their ball and player movement, have the tougher offense to guard. But the Knicks have Brunson, have shot better on open 3-pointers, and have made fewer defensive mistakes.

They were also able to turn up their defense a bit in the second half of Game 2, holding the Pacers to just 18 points on 23 possessions in the third quarter and (with it a two-point game with less than six minutes left) just 10 points on 10 possessions down the stretch.

Defending at a high level will be tougher for the Knicks in Indiana and without Anunoby. After his arrival in the regular season, they allowed an amazing 13.4 more points per 100 possessions with him off the floor (100.9) than they did with him on the floor (114.3).

But the Pacers can’t just rely on their offense and will need to be better defensively than they’ve been through the first two games. They ranked 24th defensively in the regular season and the 132.1 points per 100 possessions they’ve allowed over these two games is their worst two-game stretch of defense since mid-December.

3. Can Knicks continue to succeed late in the clock?

With a lot of pressure, both in the backcourt and in the frontcourt, the Pacers have done one good thing defensively. They’ve forced the Knicks into a lot of late-clock situations.

Over the two games, the Knicks have taken 34% of their shots in the last seven seconds of the shot clock, according to Second Spectrum tracking. That’s up from 27% in their first round series against Philadelphia and a league-high rate of 25% in the regular season.

But the Knicks have been great late in the clock, registering an effective field goal percentage of 59.6% in the last seven seconds, up from 39.6% in the first round and 47.2% in the regular season.

The dagger in Game 2 was a Brunson floater with four seconds left on the clock, while Donte DiVincenzo’s go-ahead 3 in Game 1 came with five seconds left to shoot.

The Knicks shooting so well late in the clock is probably unsustainable, unless a lot of those shots are layups and dunks. They scored 54 points in the restricted area in Game 2, tying their season high.

Too often, the Pacers allowed them to attack the paint late in the clock …

Donte DiVincenzo assist to Precious Achiuwa

The possession isn’t over until it’s over, especially with how good the Knicks are on the offensive glass.

4. Empty-corner screens produce open corner 3s

One action that both teams have employed in this series is the “empty-corner” pick-and-roll, where the ball-handler comes off a screen from one side of the floor to the middle, and there’s nobody occupying the corner on the side from which he began.

It’s an effective action, because that empty corner means that there’s no back-side help on the roll man. And with that, he can go untouched and get an easy bucket …

Isaiah Hartenstein dunk

More often in this series, the defense has bent toward the strong side, leaving a shooter open in the opposite corner …

Donte DiVincenzo corner 3-pointer

The two teams combined to shoot 13-for-22 from the corners in Game 2, though Pascal Siakam missed one of the biggest shots of the night when an empty-corner pick-and-roll resulted in another wide-open look on the weak side …

Donte DiVincenzo corner 3-pointer

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John Schuhmann is a senior stats analyst for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on X. 

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