Knicks forward OG Anunoby, left, sits on the bench in the...

Knicks forward OG Anunoby, left, sits on the bench in the third quarter during Game 7 of the NBA Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Pacers on Sunday at Madison Square Garden. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

OG Anunoby drew a load roar from Knicks fans when the team came out for pregame warm-ups Sunday. The cheers continued at Madison Square Garden when he was introduced as a starter.

But the rush couldn’t hide the pain. Anunoby wasn’t moving well with a left hamstring strain that had sidelined him the previous four games. He was limited to 4:41 in the Knicks’ 130-109 Game 7 loss to the Pacers as his body couldn’t back up his will.

Anunoby made his first two shots, including a three-pointer, but was a liability on defense, the side of the ball that made him so effective after the Knicks traded for him in late December.

Pascal Siakam blew by him twice for layups as Anunoby lacked any lateral quickness. After Andrew Nembhard made a three-pointer when Anunoby couldn’t rotate over fast enough, the Knicks called timeout and subbed him out for Deuce McBride with 7:19 left in the first quarter.

“Just trying,” Anunoby said after the game. “Couldn’t really sprint, couldn’t really jump, but just tried my best.”

It was a long shot given his progress the past week. On Tuesday before Game 5, coach Tom Thibodeau said Anunoby was doing light work on the court. That was two days after he told reporters that Anunoby was  doing only pool work without running.

Thibodeau added Sunday that Anunoby approached him the day before about trying to play. He was cleared by the Knicks’ medical team, but even in warm-ups, he didn’t seem to be moving smoothly.

That concern was validated once play began. Anunoby tried to stay warm by riding the exercise bicycle at points, but Thibodeau was adamant that his day was done.

“Just the way he was moving. I didn’t want to risk it,” he said of pulling him. “The lift from him hitting the shots and then I didn’t feel like he was moving well. It didn’t make sense.”

It was the first sign that the Knicks finally had run out of steam. Josh Hart played 36:33 despite  an abdominal strain and had 10 points and eight rebounds, but he lacked his usual energy in transition. Jalen Brunson didn’t even finish the game as the All-Star point guard left in the third quarter with a fractured left hand.

For Anunoby, it was a tough end after helping to elevate the Knicks. They were 20-3 with him in the regular season  and 6-2 with him in the postseason before his injury in Game 2.

He also endeared himself to fans, who returned the favor on Sunday by trying to spur him on.

“It felt cool. It was really awesome,” Anunoby said of the pregame cheers.

Now he faces a decision about whether  to exercise his $19.9 million player option for next season. He didn’t say much about it after the game but spoke highly of Thibodeau as a coach for his preparation. He also had respect for the Knicks’ resilience and fight. That made him try to play one more time, but  it also reminded Knicks fans about the impact injuries had on the team's ceiling as the Pacers advanced to the Eastern Conference finals against the Celtics.

“It definitely sucks,” Anunoby said. "We’re a great team, we have a great team. But you can’t control that, though.”


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