INDIANAPOLIS — When the game was over Wednesday night at Gainbridge Fieldhouse, the Knicks moved one by one into the postgame interviews and tried to explain away what had happened. And, mostly, they were at a loss for words or trying to hold their tongues.
They had been dominated, 122-102, by the Pacers, who were missing players to injury and illness and had been informed by the front office that they are open for business on the trade market. It marked the second time in three games that the Knicks (12-13) had been run off the court by a shorthanded squad.
Tom Thibodeau went first, insisting that the team cannot give in to excuses, although he listed all of the reasons the Knicks might have been out-hustled and outplayed by the Pacers (11-16).
Julius Randle followed and said, "I think everybody was just a little drained. The back-to-back, whatever it was. We just have to be mentally tougher to overcome that and have a better focus." Evan Fournier finished off the session, and when asked why this would happen, he said, "That’s a good question."
But the inconsistent play and bafflingly up-and-down effort might not be the Knicks’ biggest issue at the moment. They flew from Indiana to Toronto after the game, but left behind was a Pacers squad that shut down its practice Thursday morning because of health and safety protocols after coach Rick Carlisle tested positive for COVID-19, according to an ESPN report. And awaiting the Knicks across the border were the Raptors, who also shut down their practice because of health and safety protocols while the entire team and staff were being tested.
According to league sources, there seemed to be no danger of the Knicks’ game in Toronto being postponed because there were no Raptors players in protocols and a fully vaccinated Knicks team was not believed to have anyone who came into close contact with Carlisle. And as a fully vaccinated team, no one would need to quarantine as a close contact.
The Knicks have managed to navigate the health and safety protocols better than most teams, but the issues outside of health and safety are not easily solved.
Thibodeau went easy on his team in the postgame interviews, mentioning the schedule, being on a back-to-back (although the Knicks didn’t mention that their win in San Antonio came with the Spurs on the back end of a back-to-back set that had them in Phoenix the night before). But other than Fournier having the excuse of food poisoning, there was little explanation for the effort. Fournier noted that the Pacers were more physical and that the Knicks didn’t match that level.
"Have to get yourself ready for that kind of game regardless of the circumstances,’’ he said, "and we didn’t do it.
"That’s the challenge for us, to find consistency . . . We are all aware of it, all know what we have to do, and yet we keep being inconsistent. I don’t know. I wish I had the answer."