The New York Knicks were eliminated from the playoffs after losing to the Pacers 130-109 in Game 7, NewsdayTV's Jamie Stuart reports. Credit: Newsday/William Perlman

This was a day that the Knicks had waited for, fought for all season long, a Game 7 at Madison Square Garden with 19,812 crazed fans crowding in. Really, it was a day that the city had waited 29 years for to witness one of these magical back-to-the-wall games.

The Knicks made it feel even more special as OG Anunoby pushed his way back early from a hamstring strain to enter the starting lineup. Josh Hart shrugged off an abdominal strain and opted to give it a go. Fans chanted in the corridors even before the game began. The script seemed perfect for one more display of the grittiness that had marked this team.

But then Anunoby couldn’t make it through five minutes on the court. Jalen Brunson, who has carried the Knicks on his shoulders through so much, suffered a fractured left hand in the third quarter and never made it back from the locker room.

And then there were none — no more next man up to take up the slack, no more heroics and no more games. On the biggest day of the season, all grit and no quit were not enough, and with their stars aligning only in bandages and braces, the Knicks finally fell to the Indiana Pacers, 130-109, to put a painful ending on what had been an inspiring season.

“As a coach, you always measure what a group has and are we getting everything out of the group?” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “And the only thing you can ask for is everyone puts forth their best effort. And we got that all year from these guys. What goes along with that is peace of mind knowing that you did your best. That’s all you can ask for. A lot of teams, I think, would have folded, and we didn’t . . .  It was hit after hit. But these guys never folded. They just kept fighting.”

For all of the hope that the depleted roster had provided, the season ended only one win deeper than last year and was loaded with questions about what could have been if the Knicks had just been healthy. They had two chances to finish this series but came up empty, battered, bruised and heartbroken. In the end, Anunoby sat near the end of the bench, by Julius Randle, who was in street clothes, with Brunson still in the locker room.

“This team is special in a way I can’t really explain,” said Brunson, who finished with 17 points and 6-for-17 shooting in 29:10, a far cry from the 40-point nights that had made his postseason special. “The way we just fought, the way we didn’t use excuses and kept finding ways to the best of our abilities, and that was just our mindset. And I just love the fact we had that mindset.”

When Hart fouled out with three minutes left, the fans chanted his name and stood and cheered, acknowledging the fight that he and the team had put forth. The adversity and obstacles the Knicks had overcome all season long finally proved too much. Brunson was the last of the opening night starters to depart, and the team was left to rely on scoring heroics from Donte DiVincenzo, who shot 9-for-15 from three-point range and had 39 points, and Alec Burks, who came off the bench to contribute 26 points in 27:24.

With 4:06 left in the third quarter and the Knicks down 14,  Brunson went to the locker room for a moment, returned and then retreated again with trainers. This time his father, assistant coach Rick Brunson, accompanied him. With Brunson in the back, the Knicks fell behind by 17 to start the fourth quarter, and then came word that he was done.

The pandemonium rippling through the Garden carried over to the start of the game, as Brunson hit a shot in the lane to get the scoring going and  Anunoby drained a corner three-pointer on his first shot. While the home crowd seemed ready to blow the roof off of the venerable arena when Anunoby hit his next attempt, a tough jumper from just inside the arc as the shot clock was about to expire, it was easy to see that he was not moving well.

Although Anunoby hit both shots, the Pacers saw what the crowd could see — that he was struggling to move, unable to cut quickly or run at full speed. Just 4:41 into the game, the Knicks called timeout to get Anunoby out of the game and he never appeared again, spending the last six minutes of the first half on an exercise bicycle to stay loose but unable to get back on the floor.

Anunoby’s quick start offensively may have provided a spark, but his inability to defend — his primary skill — allowed the Pacers' spark to burn wildly as they shot at a record-setting pace in the first half. Indiana led 39-27 after one quarter after  converting 16 of 21 shots overall  and going 7-for-9 from three-point range. Tyrese Haliburton scored 14 of his  26 points in the quarter.

It got worse to start the second quarter as the Pacers hit their first six shots and stretched their lead to 52-30. Indiana shot 76.3% in the first half (29-for-38), the best by any team in the last 25 postseasons, according to ESPN Stats. The Pacers took a 70-55 halftime lead, and no team had ever blown a 15-point halftime lead in a Game 7 (until Denver did it against Minnesota on Sunday night and joined the Knicks in losing at home).

The Knicks got within 73-67 early in the third quarter, but the Pacers quickly broke open the game again, going up by 19 late in the quarter.

“I don’t wanna discredit them at all, but with everything that happened — I think it was an 11-, 12-point game with six minutes left, and that’s our mindset as an organization,” DiVincenzo said. “It really does not matter who’s out there for us because every single person is gonna give 110%. We have a system. We have core principles that if you follow and you believe in, you give yourself a shot every single game . . .  But that mindset doesn’t change. That’s not like, oh, somebody goes out; we gotta play a whole different way. You focus on your core principles and give it your best shot and see what happens at the end.”


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