Jalen Brunson drops 44 as Knicks blow out Pacers in Game 5

NEW YORK — The New York Knicks still have one step left to reach the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2000.

Jalen Brunson, after a few tough games, looks ready to take it.

Brunson scored 44 points, reaching 40 for the fifth time in the playoffs, and the Knicks beat the Indiana Pacers 121-91 on Tuesday night for a 3-2 lead in their playoff series.

The Knicks bounced back from a blowout loss and secured at least one more game at Madison Square Garden in front of their roaring fans who were eager to see big games again in late spring. Josh Hart had 18 points and 11 rebounds, and Deuce McBride scored 17 points after being inserted into the starting lineup.

The No. 2 seed Knicks can win the second-round series Friday night in Indianapolis after the first two-day break between games in the series. (Caitlin Clark’s WNBA home debut with the Indiana Fever is scheduled for Thursday night at Gainbridge Fieldhouse.)

“We still need one more win, so we can’t get too excited,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “We have to understand what we have to do, stay focused on the task at hand. If you feel good about yourself, you will be knocked down in this league. We have to be ready to go.”

Game 7, if necessary, would take place Sunday afternoon in New York.

Brunson injured his right foot in Game 2 and was held to a playoff-low 18 points Sunday as the Pacers knocked the Knicks off the court in a 121-89 game. He kept insisting that he was fine – and there was no reason to question that Tuesday.

“I think as a team, no matter what the situation is, we have the same mindset no matter what,” Brunson said. “And no matter how I feel or how anyone else feels, we know what’s at stake, we know what we have to do and we’re going to figure it out.”

Stopping quickly to score 3s off the dribble or using his series of fakes and spins to place soft jumpers in the lane, Brunson shot 18 of 35 from the field and once again looked like the player who finished fifth this season in MVP. voting, not the one who shot 10 of 26 in Game 3 and 6 of 17 on Sunday.

He scored 28 points in the first half in Game 5, a Knicks playoff record, then put the game away in the fourth with seven straight points, capped by a three-point play that brought the score to 106-86 with 7:57 left.

Brunson, who scored 43 points in Game 1 to become the fourth player in NBA history with four straight 40-point games in the playoffs, got plenty of help Tuesday.

Alec Burks, who had been completely out of the rotation until reappearing after a series of injuries, added 18 points coming off the bench, and Isaiah Hartenstein had seven points and 17 rebounds, helping the Knicks beat the Pacers 53 -29 on the glass.

“We got annihilated on loose balls and rebounds. We gave up 20 offensive rebounds and 29 extra shots. So we all own it,” Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said. “But very embarrassing. Very embarrassing and a hard lesson.”

Pascal Siakam scored 22 points for the sixth-seeded Pacers, who will try to remain undefeated at home in the playoffs to force the deciding game. Myles Turner added 16 points, but All-Star Tyrese Haliburton had just 13 after averaging 29.7 over the past three games.

Indiana got off to a hot start and led 25-20 before the Knicks took the lead with an 11-0 run en route to a 38-32 lead after one quarter. Pacers coach Rick Carlisle burned three timeouts in the quarter, with the crowd seeming to get louder each time.

Brunson made back-to-back baskets for a 13-point lead early in the second quarter, then scored the first basket in a 9-0 run that made it 65-47 with 2:11 left. A 17-0 run in the third turned an eight-point lead into an 89-64 victory.

“They killed us on the glass better than they probably have in any game in the entire series,” Haliburton said. “We just didn’t live up to the intensity level all night.”

The Knicks haven’t reached the conference finals since the Pacers beat them in 2000 in the sixth meeting between the teams in eight years. This one had some of the ferocity of the 1990s Knicks-Pacers in a game featuring five technical fouls.

Indiana’s Isaiah Jackson was cautioned for a foul for a tough pick that knocked New York’s Donte DiVincenzo to the field in the first half. Hartenstein approached and stood face to face with Jackson, and Burks also entered and appeared to raise his hand and make contact with Jackson. All three players were called for technical fouls.

Later, after DiVincenzo missed Brunson’s jump, he and Turner tangled as DiVincenzo tried to fight through a pick. They then yelled at each other after a foul was called, and both stood up as the crowd chanted DiVincenzo’s name while the referees reviewed the play.

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