The Knicks' OG Anunoby goes up to shoot against the...

The Knicks' OG Anunoby goes up to shoot against the 76ers during the first half of Game 6 in an NBA first-round playoff series Thursday in Philadelphia. Credit: AP/Matt Slocum

The Knicks have as rich a postseason history with the Pacers as they do with the Bulls and the Heat. They’ve engaged in heated battles dating to the Reggie Miller episodes and to Roy Hibbert’s block of a shot by Carmelo Anthony that ended the 2013 Knicks’ title hopes. This latest version doesn’t carry the rivalry and head-butting history, but it does present an interesting contrast in styles.  

1 Which Haliburton arrives?

Tyrese Haliburton was being mentioned in MVP conversations in the first half of the season, and deservedly so, as he put up crazy numbers while orchestrating the Pacers’ high-scoring offensive attack. But after being sidelined with a hamstring strain Jan. 8 and missing 10 of the next 11 games, he has seen his numbers plummet. Haliburton was averaging 23.8 points, 12.5 assists and 2.5 turnovers and shooting 40.3% from beyond the arc before the injury. In 35 games after his return, he averaged 16.8 points and 9.3 assists and shot 32.4% from three-point range. In the six playoff games against Milwaukee, he averaged 16.0 points, 9.3 assists and 2.7 turnovers and shot only 29.6% from outside the arc. If the Knicks can hold him near those numbers, maybe Wally Szczerbiak won’t hear as many reminders of his “fake wannabe All-Star” assessment from last season.  

2 The OG effect

The attempt to stifle Haliburton will be, as Tom Thibodeau often repeats, a team job. But one difference from the three meetings in the regular season is that OG Anunoby was not with the Knicks for any of their three games against Indiana. Anunoby, an elite on- and off-ball defender, did face Haliburton once this season while with Toronto before being obtained by the Knicks, and in nine minutes in which Anunoby served as the primary defender against him, Haliburton had seven points and one assist.  

3 The Obi effect?

Obi Toppin was one of the fan favorites during his time in New York after being drafted No. 8 overall by the current front office in 2020. He came with raw athleticism and dunking ability to light up the Garden, but with Toppin parked behind Julius Randle in the rotation and looking for his next contract after this season, the Knicks traded him to Indiana last summer. He has settled into a similar role, coming off the bench, and averaged 10.3 points. He did raise his shooting numbers across the board, shooting 40.3% from beyond the arc while playing in all 82 games, and added a 21-point effort off the bench in Game 6 to knock out the Bucks. So does he get out on the break against the Knicks? Or do they know him better than any other opponent does and stop his run-outs and open looks?  

4 Gassed

Once Bojan Bogdanovic suffered a season-ending injury 71 seconds into his Game 4 appearance against Philadelphia, the Knicks played only seven players the remainder of the series. Do they keep that tight rotation in place against the Pacers, who will try to run them up and down the floor with their fast-paced attack? Three things worth considering: Precious Achiuwa could be a useful piece against Indiana, so adding him to the rotation makes sense. Then, consider that although the Pacers utilized 13 players in the opening round, only eight were a regular part of the rotation (the next-most-used player appeared in four games totaling 24 minutes). And finally, the fast pace is not as fast in the postseason. Actually, add a fourth factor to this: The Knicks who already are playing 48 minutes — or 53, in the case of Josh Hart in Game 5 against Philly — have shown no sign of fatigue.  

5 Second options

It’s a pretty good bet that Jalen Brunson is going to do what he does. His postseason numbers against Miami last season and Philadelphia in the first round (as well as his work in Dallas) provide evidence that defenses focusing on him aren’t going to shut him down. But without Randle, the Knicks could use a reliable second option every night, and that didn’t happen in the first round. At times, Hart delivered. Other times, Donte DiVincenzo broke out. The Pacers’ defense is not their strong suit, so open shots will be there. Whether it’s one of those two or Anunoby, they must provide offensive help for Brunson to keep up with Indiana’s offense.


Steve Popper

Before the playoffs it was safe to wonder if the Pacers were an unlikely tough matchup for the Knicks with their run-and-gun attack, engaging in high-scoring shootouts. But maybe it’s not what it appeared in the regular season as the Pacers were slowed even in beating Milwaukee and the Knicks showed their toughness in beating Philadelphia. KNICKS IN 5.

Barbara Barker

Two teams with a rich playoff history and opposite styles of play. Pacers play at a breakneck speed while Knicks are a defensive-oriented team with the slowest pace in the league. Pacers will have a harder time adjusting. As for the storied history, Spike Lee is still courtside, but Reggie Miller won't be suiting up to rescue the Pacers. KNICKS IN 6.

Evan Barnes

Styles make fights and the Pacers’ up-tempo style is a fun contrast to the Knicks’ grind-it-out play. Enjoy Tyrese Haliburton vs Jalen Brunson but the Knicks will slow this battle down and take advantage of the Pacers' defensive issues. KNICKS IN 5.


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