Jalen Brunson drops 44 points as Knicks beat Pacers in Game 5

NEW YORK – Jalen Brunson scored 44 points, reaching 40 points for the fifth time in the postseason, as the New York Knicks pulled away with a victory for their first trip to the Eastern Conference Finals since 2000 by defeating the Indiana Pacers 121-91 on Tuesday night in a game. 5.

The Knicks rebounded from their upset loss on Sunday and guaranteed themselves at least one more game at Madison Square Garden in front of their enthusiastic fans who were eager to see big late-spring games again. Josh Hart scored 18 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, and Miles McBride scored 17 points after being included in the starting lineup.

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

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

Game 7, if necessary, will be Sunday afternoon in New York.

Brunson injured his right foot in Game 2 and was limited to 18 points on Sunday, his lowest of the postseason, as the Pacers beat the Knicks, 121-89. He kept insisting he was fine, and there was no reason to doubt that Tuesday.

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Brunson quickly pulled down 3-pointers off the dribble or used a series of fakes and turnovers to set up soft jumpers in the lane, shot 18-for-35 from the field and once again looked like the player who finished fifth this season in MVP honors. Vote, not the guy who shot 10-for-26 in Game 3 and 6-for-17 on Sunday.

He scored 28 in the first half of Game 5, a Knicks record, then put the game to bed in the fourth with seven straight points, capped by a three-pointer that made it 106-86 with 7:57 left.

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

Alec Burks, who was out of the rotation entirely until he returned after a series of injuries, added 18 points off the bench, and Isaiah Hartenstein scored seven points and grabbed 17 rebounds, helping the Knicks beat the Pacers 53-29 on the glass.

“We got wiped out on rebounds and rebounds. We had 20 offensive rebounds and 29 other shots. So, we all own that,” Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said. “But it’s very embarrassing. Very embarrassing and a hard lesson.”

Pascal Siakam scored 22 points for the sixth-seeded Pacers, who will try to maintain their unbeaten record at home in the post-season to impose a decisive match. Myles Turner added 16 points, but All-Star Tyrese Haliburton scored just 13 points after averaging 29.7 points over the past three games.

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

Brunson got back-to-back baskets to take a 13-point lead early in the second quarter and then made the first basket of a 9-0 run that made it 65-47 with 2:11 remaining.

The Knicks have not reached the conference finals since the Pacers beat them in 2000 in the sixth meeting between the two teams in eight years. This player had some of the ferocity of the 1990s Knicks Pacers in a game that included five technical fouls.

Indiana’s Isaiah Jackson was called for a foul for a hard pick that knocked New York’s Donte DiVincenzo down the field in the first half. Hartenstein approached Jackson and faced his chest, and Burks also entered and appeared to raise his hand and reach out to Jackson. All three players were called for technical fouls.

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

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