Garden path has been a rocky one for Knicks so far
It doesn’t matter that there are players on Rick Carlisle’s Indiana Pacers team who weren’t alive when the Pacers-Knicks rivalry was at its zenith.
Coming to New York, Carlisle said, is a big deal.
"Our core guys are in their mid to late 20s. They were alive back then," Carlisle said before Monday night’s Pacers-Knicks game. "Many of them follow basketball. They know who Patrick Ewing and Reggie Miller are and those kinds of things. When you come to New York and play here, it’s a big deal. It’s a larger-than-life experience."
Unfortunately, the Pacers aren’t the only team that gets up to play at Madison Square Garden.
Some of the Knicks’ worst moments this season have unfolded at the Garden. Heading into Monday night, the Knicks had lost three straight at home and were 2-4 at the Garden.
Last season, the Knicks posted a 25-11 record at MSG that helped push them to their first playoff appearance in eight seasons.
Monday night’s contest was the first of three games in a row at home against opponents with losing records. The Knicks follow the game against the Pacers with contests against Orlando (3-10 entering Monday night) and Houston (1-12).
Knicks point guard Derrick Rose played plenty of games as a visitor to the Garden, and he says he always came in looking to have a big game.
"Of course, being in the city, the mecca of basketball, you want to have a good performance in the Garden," Rose said after practice on Sunday. "It looks good on the resume ... It’s a great feeling playing there — not just the home team but the road team. When you win games, you shut the crowd up."
For most of last season, there were either no fans or very limited crowds because of the pandemic. So it’s possible there was less pressure on the Knicks as they started what was supposed to be a rebuilding year under their new coach Tom Thibodeau.
This year, the Knicks are playing to sellout crowds who have high expectations after watching their team nab the fourth seed in the playoffs last year. They are also trying to incorporate two new starters, Evan Fournier and Kemba Walker, into their starting lineup.
So far, that hasn’t gone that well. In a loss to Milwaukee here last Wednesday, Thibodeau benched his starters for the entire fourth quarter. After they struggled again in a loss at Charlotte on Friday, Julius Randle stated the obvious.
"It seems we don’t have a lot of chemistry right now," Randle said. "We have to keep working through it."
The Knicks had two days of practice to prepare for the Pacers, who seem to be going the opposite direction of the Knicks.
"We know we got to play better," Thibodeau said. "You don’t win games because you’re home. You win games because you’re prepared to play well. Our fans are important. The arena is important but we have to play well and put the work into the game. When we do that, we are really good.’’
Indiana entered Monday’s game having won five of their previous seven, including a 111-98 win over the Knicks in Indiana on Nov. 3.
Carlisle said his team was pumped up for that game.
"I mean our team and staff really respect what the Knicks are doing over the last year and a half," Carlisle said before Monday’s game. "They’ve reinvented who they are as a tough-minded, physical, attacking, unselfish team. Going into the game, we knew we had to be ready.
"And we’ll have to be ready again tonight."