Pacers blow exhausted, dead Knicks out of the water in Game 4, tie series 2-2

INDIANAPOLIS – This is the kind of game tape you burn and never mention again.

It’s the kind of play that forced Tom Thibodeau – in unprecedented fashion – to wave the white flag with 2:32 left in the third quarter of the Knicks’ crushing Game 4 loss to the Indiana Pacers on Sunday.

Jalen Brunson, when healthy, has appeared in every fourth quarter for the Knicks this season except one, when the Knicks held a 29-point lead entering the final period of their win over the Boston Celtics on April 11.

Brunson watched from the sideline as his Knicks extended their lead in the final period and left Boston with a nine-point win.

He again watched from the sidelines as the Pacers steamrolled his Knicks to a 121-89 victory, tying the series at two games. The Knicks, who hadn’t lost a game by more than 24 points this season, never got closer to the Pacers than 28 points in the second half.

Thibodeau pulled Brunson, who had 18 points on 6 of 17 shooting, for 31 minutes, replacing midseason signing Shake Milton, who hadn’t spent a minute on the court since April 4. Shortly afterwards, in the 44th second of the third period, he subtracted starting player Donte DiVincenzo and replaced DaQuan Jeffries, who had only played a total of 46 minutes this season.

Josh Hart’s night ended with 8:17 left in the third quarter, and Thibodeau passed Isaiah Hartenstein with 6:54 left before finally putting an end to it by beating the league’s leading playoff scorer with under three minutes left in the third sent quarter to the bench.

And early in the fourth quarter, Thibodeau pulled Precious Achiuwa from the game, opting to play third-line center Jericho Sims the rest of the way.

Thibodeau probably would have pulled Miles McBride too if he had more legs to throw on the court.

He did not do it.

It’s the state of a Knicks team that’s outmatched by a Pacers team with nine to 10 players.

The Knicks were already without Julius Randle (shoulder), Bojan Bogdanovic (ankle) and Mitchell Robinson (ankle) before OG Anunoby left the second half of Game 2 with a left hamstring strain.

On Sunday afternoon, Anunoby hadn’t made it past pool work to run on the court. He’s unlikely to make the necessary numbers for Game 5 at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday.

The Pacers overwhelmed the Knicks by a score of 34-14 in the first quarter and outscored the Knicks 35-27 in the second quarter. The 41 points the Knicks scored in the first half were the fourth fewest ever this season.

As for Brunson, it’s been a year and a half since he last watched a loss from the sidelines: the Knicks’ resounding loss on Nov. 13, 2022 to the Oklahoma City Thunder, which ended up leading by 16 points in the third quarter before Thibodeau rode Immanuel Quickley for the duration of the fourth quarter.

The Knicks trailed by 16 points in the first quarter on Sunday due to dead legs against an energetic Pacers team.

Brunson finished the game with 18 points, but no other Knicks starter scored more than eight. After scoring 14 points in Game 1, Alec Burks scored another 20 off the bench on 5 of 11 shooting from the field.

McBride scored another 16 points on 6 of 17 shooting from the field, but it wasn’t enough to contain the Pacers’ offensive attack on the Knicks on Sunday.

Now the Knicks have some time: Sunday’s game started at 3:30 p.m. and Game 5 in New York doesn’t start until Tuesday night at 8:00 p.m.

While Anunoby’s status remains unclear – if not entirely unlikely – the Knicks’ core will welcome the extra hours of rest they can use to recover from the heavy workload and head into the playoffs.

Hart, for example, played 42 or more minutes in eight consecutive playoff games before his day ended with 24 minutes on Sunday.

DiVincenzo also recorded four straight games of 44 or more minutes before making an early snag in Game 4.

The Pacers outscored the Knicks 52-43 and recorded 31 assists, while New York had 18 assists.

The Pacers initially listed All-Star point guard Tyrese Haliburton as questionable with three separate ailments, but Haliburton finished the game with 20 points, six rebounds and five assists. Six different Pacers scored in double figures, including former Knicks forward Obi Toppin (14 points, 6 of 11 shooting) and TJ McConnell, who posted a double-double with 15 points and 10 assists off the bench.