Knicks guard Donte DiVincenzo reacts at the end of Game...

Knicks guard Donte DiVincenzo reacts at the end of Game 3 against the Indiana Pacers on Friday. Credit: AP/Michael Conroy

INDIANAPOLIS — Donte DiVincenzo was on the floor under the basket, struggling to get to his feet early in the second half. Jalen Brunson started the game clearly feeling some effects of the foot injury he suffered Wednesday. OG Anunoby was watching in street clothes. And the deficit grew to 11.

The crowd at Gainbridge Fieldhouse was loudly echoing its support, and even the Indiana players were loudly screaming at the Knicks’ bench after nearly every shot.

So of course the Knicks seemed to have the Pacers right where they wanted them. But will and sweat and blood weren’t enough to get them to the finish line on Friday night as they fell, 111-106, in Game 3 of their best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series.

Indiana cut its series deficit to 2-1, with Game 4 on Sunday.

The fight had taken the Knicks nearly to the finish line, but in the end, they saw themselves done in by the things that had carried them through the postseason. The Pacers grabbed four offensive rebounds in the final minute, including one that set up the go-ahead basket. And like the magic the Knicks have found, an unlikely hero emerged for Indiana.

After Brunson’s three-pointer tied the score with 42.4 seconds left, Andrew Nembhard hit a 31-foot three-pointer with the shot clock expiring and 17.8 seconds to play to put the Pacers ahead 109-106. Brunson missed on a rushed three at the other end and Aaron Nesmith’s two free throws clinched it.

“We’re right there,” said DiVincenzo, who scored 17 of his 35 points in the third quarter and shot 7-for-11 from three-point range. “We can’t harp on submitting calls or doing anything like that. We could be better. And whoever’s out there, whoever is out on the floor, you can’t let it fall into the 50/50 calls. We had a nine- or 10-point lead, something like that. I think collectively we just have to be better. But like I said this morning, whatever five is on the court, we’re going to win the game every single time we step out on the court. That’s my mindset.’’

The Knicks felt they had it within their grasp, but there were plenty of subliminal messages sent that they also felt it had been taken from them — not just by the Pacers but by the officiating crew, too, two days after Indiana coach Rick Carlisle loudly griped about the calls in the first two games of the series.

“They beat us to the ball,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “But I thought we did a lot of good things. Guys stepped up. We got a nine-point lead there. We had a couple plays that we got a little loose on.

“But for the most part, I thought we played a really good game,” he said before adding of calls that went against the Knicks, “You got the goaltend. You got the charge. That’s the way it goes.”

The Knicks fought back from deficits of 20-8 and 77-66 and went ahead 98-89. With the score tied around the two-minute mark, Josh Hart raced downcourt on a fast break. He put the ball up and Myles Turner blocked it from behind, clearly hitting it after it hit the glass. But goaltending was not called, Indiana rushed the ball the other way and Nembhard hit a layup to give Indiana a 104-102 lead.

Still, the Knicks pulled even at 106 before Nembhard’s big three-pointer.

“I could’ve closed out a little better,” Brunson said. “But he was so far away and bobbled the ball a little bit and the ball went in. Great shot.”

Brunson overcame a slow start to finish with 26 points. After playing only 44 seconds in Game 2 — his first action of the playoffs — Alec Burks came off the bench to score 13 of his 14 points in the second quarter. But the boxscore numbers did little to satisfy the Knicks.

“We took an L,” DiVincenzo said of his playoff career high. “That’s how I viewed it. It doesn’t mean anything. Going into the next game, I’ve gotta be better in other categories. And that’s what I’m gonna watch.”

With the injuries mounting, DiVincenzo was asked Friday morning what he thought of the notion that the Knicks could punt this game and rest their remaining starters, giving Brunson a few extra days. And before the question was complete, a smile already was forming on his face. “Hell, no, you can stop there,” he said. “We ain’t punting nothing. We’re coming in here to win the game.”

Brunson never considered sitting out if he could get on the court. And if he could get on the court, he wasn’t going to make excuses for what he didn’t get done. “If I’m out there, I’m playing, and there’s no excuse whether I’m hurting or not,” he said. “If I’m hurting, I’ll come out.”

Tyrese Haliburton had 23 of his 35 points in the first half for the Pacers.

Pascal Siakam added 26 points and Turner had 21.  


Unlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months