Jalen Brunson's 44 points carried the Knicks to a crucial win Tuesday night. Newsday Knicks beat reporter Steve Popper breaks it down. Credit: Newsday/William Perlman

When the Knicks exited Gainbridge Fieldhouse Sunday afternoon they tried to leave behind the carnage that they’d just witnessed, the 43-point deficit, the 32-point loss, and forget about what had gone haywire in those 48 minutes.

But erasing the memory of that wasn’t enough to set a course correction. The Knicks needed an infusion of energy Tuesday night and it came 47 seconds into the second quarter when Indiana’s backup big man Isaiah Jackson delivered a crushing screen to Donte DiVincenzo, sending him crashing to the floor. It also woke his teammates as Isaiah Hartenstein rushed over and went nose-to-nose with Jackson with Alec Burks also jumping in — all three drawing technical fouls.

If Jackson meant to deliver a message with the hard hit, the Knicks sent a message back — if the Pacers want to play a physical game, welcome to New York. The Knicks took over from there, dominating the glass, blocking shots and most important, a revitalized Jalen Brunson attacked relentlessly, carrying the Knicks to a 121-91 win, putting them up three games to two with a chance to end the series in Indiana on Friday night.

What changed?

“Being ourselves,” DiVincenzo said. “They were talking, trying to be physical, basically trying to be our brand, our identity. And they were successful with it last game. And we regrouped, watched film and realized that’s not who we are. We came out tonight and that’s exactly who we are."

On their homecourt the Knicks were back in their comfort zone, embraced by the 19,512 fans chanting, “MVP,” for Brunson as he piled up 44 points, screaming for the physical play and defensive stops. All of the pieces were in place on this night, the energy, whatever spurred it, resulting in a massive 53-29 rebounding advantage. Josh Hart had 18 points and 11 rebounds. Hartenstein had 17 rebounds, Deuce McBride had 17 points, and Alec Burks came off the bench for 18 more.

So finally, as the teams emptied their benches with just under three minutes to play, one more chant arose from the crowd of, “Knicks in six.”

“I think as a team no matter what the situation is, we have the same mindset no matter what,” Brunson said. “Regardless of how I’m feeling or how someone else is feeling, we know what’s at stake, we know what we have to do and we’re going to figure it out.”

The energy that was missing Sunday was evident almost from the start on this night. Whether it was the skirmish, the return home to Madison Square Garden or simply the performance of Brunson, the Knicks looked like a completely different team than the one that had endured more than 48 hours of critiques for their struggles in Game 4.

After a run early in the third quarter by Indiana — or more specifically, Myles Turner, who drained three consecutive three-pointers to close the lead to seven, the Knicks took over again and DiVincenzo capped the run, first with a massive follow dunk for a 22-point lead, part of a 17-0 run, and then by finding himself nearly turning the court into a boxing ring.

DiVincenzo tried to fight through a screen by Turner and when they became tangled, he shoved his way out of it. But as he was being whistled for a foul, he and Turner were hit with technical fouls as Turner tried to get at him while DiVincenzo didn’t move, screaming in his face.

“They were trying to be tough guys,” DiVincenzo said. “And that’s not their identity and there’s nothing more to that. I don’t agree with trying to walk up on somebody…Nobody is going to fight in the NBA. So take the foul, keep it moving. You’re not a tough guy. Just keep it moving.”

“I think we always have that and that’s just a side effect of coming out with energy and toughness and tenacity,” Hart said. “So obviously we would have liked to not have some of the techs that we had, but that goes with the competitiveness and the toughness that we’re trying to bring.”

The Knicks started off by switching up the starting lineup, inserting McBride and removing Precious Achiuwa — giving the Knicks a small lineup with a size disadvantage at every spot except center. But it also provided an offensive boost with McBride’s shooting to stretch the floor and open opportunities for Brunson and the team’s most tenacious perimeter defender to clamp onto Indiana’s Tyrese Haliburton, who managed just 13 points — and much of that coming after the game was out of reach.

McBride paid immediate dividends with nine of his 17 points in the first quarter on 4-for-5 shooting. But it was Brunson who set the tone as he showed that the sore right foot that had limited him in the last two games was maybe not gone, but was not going to slow him down with the need to win to put the Knicks back in control of the series.


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