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The Student News Site of Loyola University Maryland

The Greyhound

Knicks Fall Short of Conference Finals, But Season Showed Many Promises

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In a series where the home team dominated every game, the Indiana Pacers stole Game Seven of the Eastern Conference semifinals from the New York Knicks in Madison Square Garden to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. But the Knicks showed a lot of promise this year, having one of their best and most exciting seasons in a long time.

The Knicks had won the first two games in New York, and Indiana won the following two on their home court. The Knicks won Game Five at the Garden, a pivotal game for any best-of-seven NBA series tied 2-2. 83% of teams that win Game Five when a series is tied 2-2 go on to win the entire series.

The Knicks, unfortunately, were not part of that group of teams, as they lost Game Six in Indiana and lost Game Seven by a score of 130-109, a gut punch ending to what was a dramatic and well-fought series from both teams.

New York played hard after suffering several injuries to its key players during the series and throughout the year, but it was not enough to push them to the next round.

The last two Game Seven’s in Madison Square Garden in 1994 and 1995 were also against the Indiana Pacers. The Knicks won the former and lost the latter. Some things the team cannot escape.

In a game where viewers tuned in to the bright lights of New York City, everything seemed to go wrong for the Knicks, and everything seemed to go right for Indiana.

The Pacers started the first half on 76% shooting, practically making every shot. According to the ESPN on ABC broadcast, this first-half percentage was the highest a team had recorded in the first half of a playoff game in 25 years. They led the Knicks 70-55 at halftime, where the Knicks had no answer for stopping Indiana’s offense.

New York kept composure though, having significantly less turnovers at half, but Indiana was shooting the lights out. It is extremely difficult to beat a team who is consistently making their threes.

Entering the third quarter, the Knicks showed signs of hope, cutting the Indiana lead to as small as seven points. But after an already injury-tainted season, star point guard Jalen Brunson went down with a fractured left hand late in the third after hitting the leg of Tyrese Haliburton attempting to block his layup. Without Brunson, the Knicks’ undisputed best player, their chance of mounting a comeback seemed to slowly fade away. He left the game with 17 points.

The Knicks eventually fell to the Pacers 130-109, led by all-star guard Haliburton, who led the team with 26 points on 10 shots made, along with six assists. He led Indiana to their first Conference Finals since 2014, when a young Paul George battled against LeBron James and the Miami Heat. Knicks guard Donte DiVincenzo’s 39-point performance was not enough for New York to surmount Indiana.

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According to Inside the NBA on TNT, road teams are 8-4 in Game Seven’s since 2020. Sunday’s loss to the Pacers is New York’s second straight Conference Semifinals exit.

The lows of a team’s season tend to be highlighted after losing a critical game, but these do not take away from the many positive strides that the New York Knicks have made this past season.

Jalen Brunson has cemented himself as the superstar in New York. In his second season with the Knicks, he stepped up his game considerably, averaging 28.7 points per game on 48-40-85 shooting splits, earning a much deserved first all-star appearance. He led New York to a 50-win season, the most in 11 years, and the second seed in the Eastern Conference.

New York fans have had a great appreciation for their team’s supporting cast, with newer additions such as Josh Hart and Donte DiVincenzo garnering tons of love for their consistently hard-effort play and toughness that they display for the Knicks.

Hart led all players in rebounds per game in both the Knicks’ first and second round series, averaging 12.3 and 10.9 rebounds respectively, all as a 6’4” guard. He showed his tenacity for the game night after night. DiVincenzo in his first season with the Knicks averaged 40% shooting from the three-point line, and had multiple games with at least seven threes, including one game in March with 11 threes, only a few shy of the NBA record.

The support for these players was critical after second-leading scorer Julius Randle went out for the season in late Jan. after dislocating his right shoulder. He eventually got surgery for this injury, which is what kept him out for the year.

The Knicks displayed their potential in an electric first round series win against the Philadelphia 76ers. Both Hart and DiVincenzo made game-winning shots, and Brunson averaged 35.5 points per game against the Sixers. But Indiana’s fast-paced offense in the second round was ultimately too much for the injury-riddled Knicks.

The Knicks unfortunately had six of their players affected by injuries during the playoffs, which included the likes of Josh Hart, Mitchell Robinson, and OG Anunoby, all of whom are integral rotational pieces.

New York, still, has no other choice but to improve in order to go further in the playoffs and ultimately win a championship. Jalen Brunson said post-game that he did not think this was a successful year for the Knicks.

When a reporter asked why he felt this way, he answered “Did we win a championship? Did we get close?” to which the reporter shook his head no. “So no, that’s my mindset, that’s just how it is,” Brunson said.

His determined attitude to deliver a title to New York is something fans should not take for granted.

Some areas that were looked at as reasons for the Conference Semifinals loss consisted of injuries, questionable minute allocations in the rotation, and simply needing that extra piece to push the team to the next level.

The rotation of Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau has constantly brought mixed attention as to how it affects player health, as Thibodeau is known for playing his key players large amounts of minutes per game, although this practice is more common among coaches come playoff time, but to a lesser extent.

While his players do play more minutes, they are professional athletes and have already built a high level of endurance, and Thibodeau is heavily respected by his players. Some injuries were also impact-related like that of Brunson rather than fatigue-related. Still, some believe that injuries obtained by Josh Hart and two-way forward OG Anunoby were due to their large number of minutes played in the playoffs.

Image from Yahoo Sports

Hart was seen with several strips of KT Tape on his ribs in Game Six in an attempt to mitigate soreness from abdominal strain; he eventually left the game prematurely. Josh Hart has played the most minutes out of any NBA player since Jan. 1, 2024, according to Inside the NBA. Anunoby, who was acquired via trade mid-season from Toronto, suffered a hamstring injury in Game Two against Indiana. His injury was detrimental as the Knicks were 26-6 when he suited up for them in the regular season and playoffs.

Each one of their efforts to play for New York in Game Seven was recognized and appreciated by fans.

As New York has become a significantly better team in the past few years; they will aim to improve their team in free agency and in the trade market. With 27-year-old Brunson at the helm, the New York Knicks show no signs of slowing down, and their fans will show their support every step of the way.

Josh Hart during his post-game presser said, “We didn’t quit, we didn’t [make excuses], we [battled], and hopefully New York can be proud of that and be hopeful for what’s to come.”

The 6 seed Indiana Pacers, who capitalized on their stellar offense this season, are now slated to play the No. 1 seed Boston Celtics, who posted an NBA-high 64 wins on the year. In the West, the 3 seed Minnesota Timberwolves will face off against the five seed Dallas Mavericks.

The 2023-24 season will culminate with The NBA Finals, which start on June 6.

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