Tuesday, June 25, 2024
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Knicks vs. Pacers: Josh Hart’s abdomen injury hangs over New York after Indiana forces Game 7

A day before Game 6 of their second-round series against the New York Knicks, a reporter asked Indiana Pacers coach Rick Carlisle what he had to tell his team coming off of a 30-point loss. “F—ing play hard,” Carlisle said. “That’s what we gotta do.” When asked about Tyrese Haliburton being denied off the ball by Knicks guard Miles “Deuce” McBride, Carlisle said that the Pacers simply needed to “go rebound the f—ing ball and not take it out of the net and things will be a lot different.”

Indiana played extremely hard on Friday, and it even outrebounded the Knicks. Indeed, with its season on the line, things were completely different. The Pacers blew the game open with a 17-2 run in the second quarter, and, after New York cut the lead to five early in the second half, they went on a 23-10 run to reestablish control. 

After turning the ball over about once every five possessions on Tuesday, they turned it over about once every 10 possessions. After getting bullied at Madison Square Garden, they rebounded more than 40% of their own misses and scored 62 points in the paint.

“They’re both aggression stats,” Carlisle told reporters following the 116-103 victory that tied the series 3-3. “And so, you know, we needed to do better in the aggression department.” He called Game 5 “our lowest-aggression game of the entire playoffs, so we didn’t have a very fun film session yesterday watching it. But, you know, you go through these ups and downs and young teams are going to grow.”

“They went hard,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau told reporters. “We knew they would, coming off the last game. And that’s what it’s about.”

If the question going in was whether or not the Pacers had any fight left, they answered resoundingly in the affirmative. Now, with Game 7 set for Sunday at MSG, the question is whether or not New York will have enough healthy bodies to respond in a similar fashion. 

Less than halfway through the first quarter, Knicks forward Josh Hart appeared to injure his midsection. He logged 31 minutes, but labored through most of them and needed to both ask for a substitution and go back to the locker room during the game. He checked out for the last time with 9:53 left in the fourth quarter; shortly thereafter, the team announced that he would be out for the remainder of the game with abdominal soreness.

Hart has consistently given New York everything he’s had. From Game 4 of the first round through Game 2 of this series, he averaged 48.2 minutes per game; in the playoffs overall he has averaged 42.6 minutes. More remarkable than the pure volume of minutes, though, has been the fact that Hart has typically played at full throttle for all of them. He’s pushes the ball at a breckneck pace, he initiates contact, he cuts hard off the ball, he contests shots all over the court and he chases rebounds maniacally. But this wasn’t exactly the case on Friday.

It wasn’t for lack of effort, but in Game 6 there were occasions in which Hart turned down opportunities to attack the rim in transition or go after a loose ball. He clearly wasn’t himself physically, and the Pacers’ Pascal Siakam, who finished with 25 points on 11-for-21 shooting, was happy to take advantage. The 6-foot-4 Hart has not been a great matchup for the 6-foot-8 Siakam at any point in the series, but the second quarter on Friday was particularly problematic for New York.

The Knicks started the second half with center Isaiah Hartenstein guarding Siakam, and it tried Precious Achiuwa, too. This is where it’s worth noting that, at the beginning of the series, Siakam’s primary defender was OG Anunoby, his former teammate, who has not played since straining his left hamstring in the third quarter of Game 2.

Asked if Anunoby could potentially return in Game 7, Thibodeau said, “Whatever medical says.” 

And what are they saying? “Day-to-day,” Thibodeau added. Then he smiled, having successfully revealed nothing.

As for Hart, New York star Jalen Brunson told reporters, “I mean, I would assume he’s playing. It’s Game 7.” Brunson, who has battled through a foot injury during this series, shot 2-for-13 in the first half on Friday, including 11 consecutive misses, but finished with 31 points on 11-for-26 shooting. He has to carry an enormous burden because of all the injuries — Julius Randle, his fellow All-Star, has been out since January, and the Knicks also lost forward Bojan Bogdanovic and center Mitchell Robinson during the playoffs — and it’s unclear if that burden will be heavier or lighter on Sunday.

This wasn’t the first time New York has appeared to run out of gas. That was late in Game 3, after which a chance to go up 3-0 in the series flipped through the Knicks’ fingers. The concern at the time — that they may be too banged-up to survive a long series — only intensified after getting run off the floor in Game 4, but New York bounced back at home earlier this week, bringing energy and force that Indiana couldn’t match. On Sunday, it will be tested again, and it will have another chance to advance to the conference finals. If nothing else, the Knicks know what they have to do.

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