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Andrew Nembhard’s 3 lifts Pacers over depleted Knicks, who looked listless late for the first time in Game 3



After two heartbreaking, frustrating losses at Madison Square Garden to open their second-round series against the New York Knicks, the Indiana Pacers found themselves in another nailbiter on Friday. The game was tied with 18 seconds left in the fourth quarter when Andrew Nembhard released a stepback 3 at Gainbridge Fieldhouse.

Nembhard had missed six of his seven field goal attempts at that point, but, with the shot clock winding down, there was no other option. He had to try to bail the Pacers out, and to save their season.

This time, the ball bounced Indiana’s way. (Figuratively, I mean. It was a swish.)

“I mean, I could have closed out a little better,” Knicks guard Jalen Brunson told reporters. “But, I mean, he was so far away and bobbled the ball a little bit. And the ball went in, so, just great shot.”

That long bomb turned out to be the game-winner, as Brunson missed a desperation 3 on the next possession while attempting to draw a foul. (He called it a “terrible decision” twice in his postgame press conference.) Down 2-1 in the series after the 111-106 win, Indiana has new life and a chance to even things up at home on Sunday. And given how the fourth quarter went before Nembhard hit the biggest shot of his life, it’s worth wondering if New York might have squandered its best chance to put the Pacers away.

Two and a half minutes into the final frame, the Knicks had a nine-point lead, despite the fact that OG Anunoby was out with a left hamstring strain and Brunson, who appeared to be limited by his sore right foot, had a pedestrian-by-his-standards 19 points on 8-for-19 shooting with Aaron Nesmith hounding him. Donte DiVincenzo had erupted for 35 points on 12-for-22 shooting, including 7-for-9 from 3-point range, looking to fire on the move and from deep at every opportunity. Alec Burks, who had not played in the playoffs beyond 44 seconds of spot duty in Game 2, had given New York 14 points (on 4-for-4 shooting) in 16 minutes.

And then the Knicks went flat. In the next five and a half minutes, New York missed eight straight shots and turned the ball over three times, their only point coming when Brunson split a pair of free throws. Neither DiVincenzo nor Burks scored another point; the Knicks collectively missed 13 of their final 15 field goal attempts and the Pacers ended the game on a 22-8 run.

This was not the first time in the series that Indiana, which finished the regular season with an offensive rating of 120.5 (the second-highest mark in league history), was able to push the pace and score efficiently. It was the first time in nine playoff games, though, that the Knicks looked listless down the stretch.

As remarkable as it has been to watch Josh Hart routinely play 48 minutes of extreme-intensity basketball and look no worse for the wear in Minute 48, as impressive as it has been to see Brunson repeatedly play through pain and make Knicks history, it might be unreasonable to expect New York to keep pulling off the same magic trick. This is a thoroughly banged-up team, having lost Julius Randle for the season in January and both Mitchell Robinson and Bojan Bogdanovic during the playoffs. And if Anunoby remains sidelined — he is expected to be out for Game 4, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski — it’s not going to get any easier. (Hart logged only 43:08 in Game 3.)

On Friday, Indiana had a higher offensive rebounding percentage than the Knicks and doubled them up in second chance points (16-8). In the fourth quarter, both Tyrese Haliburton and Myles Turner came up with huge blocks in transition to prevent easy baskets. The Pacers didn’t shoot quite as well as New York, but it won the points-in-the-paint battle (56-40), won the possession game and, crucially, made more plays than the Knicks did down the stretch. Even at full strength, New York doesn’t have the firepower to overcome this sort of thing. And in the Knicks’ current state, they have to hope they can once again find the energy to prevent this sort of thing.





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