New York Knicks' Jalen Brunson (11) gestures to fans after...

New York Knicks' Jalen Brunson (11) gestures to fans after making a three-point shot during the second half of Game 5 in an NBA basketball second-round playoff series against the Indiana Pacers, Tuesday, May 14, 2024, in New York. The Knicks won 121-91. Credit: AP/Frank Franklin II

INDIANAPOLIS — The Knicks had a rare break in the postseason schedule, a two-day breather to heal and rest as they readied for the opportunity to end their Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Indiana Pacers on Friday night at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. And that meant two days for the Knicks to soak in the echoes of the chaos at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night, to recall how they’d knocked out the Philadelphia 76ers on the road in the opening round.

And what it really meant was two days for coach Tom Thibodeau to tell them to forget all about that: the victories, the accomplishments and the opportunity that stood in front of them.

“This is totally different,” Thibodeau said. “We’ve got to be locked into exactly what we have to do against Indiana. Philly has nothing to do with this. Last game has nothing to do with this. It’s being locked into this game. Just be ready for this game.

“The important thing is not to get lost in all the hyperbole and [being] distracted and lock into winning the game. Just focus on the task at hand, which is to win the game. So don’t get sidetracked, just lock in, and that’s the one thing I think this team has done well. Put in the necessary work that goes into winning it and don’t get lost. Just stay focused.”

The Knicks put their 30-point Game 5 win as far out of their minds as they had put the 32-point loss in Game 4. And the lessons of Thibodeau were mouthed by his team, one player after another.

“We need to forget what happened these past five games and understand [Game 6] is going to be different," Jalen Brunson said. "They’re going to be ready to go. The crowd is going to be into it. And for us there are going to be things where we just have to focus on sticking together. Things may not go our way, but it’s how to respond to certain things and making sure we stay together no matter what.”

The Knicks saw their season end in six games in this round last season against the Miami Heat. Now they find themselves on the verge of a matchup with the top-seeded Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals, a round the Knicks have not reached in nearly a quarter-century, back when Thibodeau was an assistant coach and it was Rick Brunson, not Jalen, who was playing for the team.

But they have seen it disappear. The majority of this group was in place when Miami defeated the Knicks in the conference semifinals last season, and they knew the reality that was facing them Friday night as a shorthanded team facing a desperate group in the Pacers.

“I’m trying not to think too much into that,” Josh Hart said. “We’ve been saying this whole time for us as players and coaches, we have to make sure that we’re humble in the moment, that we’re not taking any game for granted or overlooking any game or anything like that. For the fans, we want them to be as crazy and chaotic as possible. And we want them to enjoy this ride. But for me, not really thinking about that too much. At the end of the day, when you start thinking about that, you start — sometimes you get happy, sometimes you get satisfied, and bad things happen.”

The Knicks have the cushion of a lead and the assurance that even with a loss, they would return home for a Game 7. But while closing out the series at the Garden would be a pleasant — and chaotic — thought, it's something that the Knicks would like to put aside for now.

“Yeah, obviously we would like to have closeout games at the Garden and give the fans that kind of excitement,” Hart said. “I mean, getting a win, ending a series on the road is always fun. Obviously, their crowd is going to be crazy. If you’re able to silence a crowd like that, obviously that’s a great feeling. On the road sometimes it’s easier to focus because there are not as many distractions. It’s more about the guys in the locker room. It’s fun to do that on the road. At some point, hopefully not this series, but at some point, we would like to end a playoff series at the Garden.”

As long as they can finish this series, that next chance could come in the conference finals.  But that’s for the future, and the Knicks are focused on the now.

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