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2023-24 Eastern Conference Second Round Preview: New York Knicks vs. Indiana Pacers

Knicks Pacers NBA
The Knicks and Pacers meet yet again in the NBA playoffs, but in a new age! (Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)

2023-24 Eastern Conference Second Round Preview: New York Knicks vs. Indiana Pacers

Are you a sucker for old-fashioned rivalries? Do you remember Reggie Miller staring directly into Spike Lee’s soul after scoring eight points in 18.7 seconds in 1995? Well, this is the series for you!

In a flash from the past, the No. 2-seeded New York Knicks will square off with the Indiana Pacers in the second round of the 2023-24 playoffs, with Game 1 being Monday evening inside Madison Square Garden. The Knicks took two of the three meetings throughout the regular season, but in a playoff setting with two of the league’s best guards in Tyrese Haliburton and Jalen Brunson, that hardly matters!

Without further ado, let’s hop into it!

What to know about the Knicks:

Starters:

Key Reserves:

The New York Knicks fought off Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers in six games in the first round–one of the best first-round series played in recent memory.

Even after an ill-efficient first two games of the series, Brunson went on to average 35.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 9.0 assists on 42.9 percent shooting over the six games, closing the series with three 40-point games on 49.5/33.3/75.0 shooting splits. The Knicks, the best rebounding time during the regular season, owned the glass against Philadelphia, including a first-round best 37.0 offensive rebounding percentage and 20.6 second-chance points per 100 possessions (2.1 more than any other team).

The Knicks were a top-7 offense and a top-10 defense throughout the course of the regular season, but are 22-4 in games that Brunson, Hart and Anunoby have all played in. Head coach Tom Thibodeau will likely roll with seven deep in this series with Robinson and hard-nosed McBride off the bench.

They have not made an Eastern Conference Finals since 1999-00, having been eliminated in the conference semifinals twice since. Will they be able to get over the hump against a young, hungry Pacers team? We’ll have to wait and see!

What to know about the Pacers:

Starters:

Key Reserves:

The Pacers, who downed the Giannis Antetokounmpo-less Milwaukee Bucks in six games, were one of the most electrifying offenses across the NBA throughout the course of the regular season, leading the league in pace and second in offense. The conductor of their train was Tyrese Haliburton, who led the NBA in assists (10.9) while averaging 20.1 points and 3.9 boards per game.

Indiana’s offense was still the second-most effective in the first round, tallying 119.4 points per 100 possessions, second to only Minnesota by nearly four points (123.2). Siakam was arguably the best player against the Bucks, averaging 22.3 points, 8.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists on 54.7 percent shooting; Turner tallied 19.2 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.2 blocks on 48.2 percent shooting and 43.9 percent from beyond the arc.

Toppin, Nembhard, Nesmith and McConnell, who tallied 20 points, nine assists and four steals on 7-of-9 shooting the series-clinching Game 5, were all impactful at different points of the Bucks series. Now, they will face a much taller task against a more athletic, feistier foe than their previous counterpart.

Question(s):

Can the Pacers contain New York on the glass?

As I mentioned above, the Knicks were the top rebounding team this season, leading the NBA in rebounding and offensive rebounding percentage behind two remarkable rebounding bigs in Hartenstein and Robinson. Though perhaps their strongest contributor is Hart, a 6-foot-4 wing.

The Pacers, on the other hand, were not as formidable on the glass. Indiana was the seventh-worst team on the glass and fifth-worst on the defensive glass. In their three regular-season meetings, Indiana out-rebounded the Knicks just once (plus-9), while finishing a minus-8 and minus-16 in their other two meetings, respectively.

Limiting the Knicks, who are as dominant as anyone corraling extra opportunities, to just one possession will be crucial; that suggests that Turner, Isaiah Jackson, Siakam and Toppin, a former Knick, must collectively crash the glass–in addition to several more.

A slow-paced game benefits New York. Can Indiana somehow speed it up?

The Knicks were last in the NBA in pace and are schematically more versatile than Indiana. New York can play quickly in the halfcourt or slow things down for Brunson; Indiana’s rapid decision-making and space flourishes with extra pace, but can oftentimes become hindered in a slower setting.

Can Haliburton and Co. speed it up? A fast-paced game favors Indiana, a slower-paced game doesn’t. In postseason settings, the pace typically slows, but I like Indiana’s chances a lot more if they’re able to puncture New York’s sturdy halfcourt defense … before it has an opportunity to set itself.

Whose role players will shine?

The Knicks have Brunson, the Pacers have Haliburton and Siakam. Indiana is deeper, but New York is stronger. You need your role players to play well to win, the deeper you get into the postseason. Who perseveres?

Prediction: Knicks in 6

***

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