2024 NBA Playoffs preview, prediction: Indiana Pacers vs. New York Knicks

New York Knicks v Philadelphia 76ers - Game Six
New York Knicks v Philadelphia 76ers - Game Six

If styles make fights, this series should be a classic.

It's a throwback series to a 1990s rivalry — and the New York Knicks still want to play that era's style. They are physical, grinding, defense-first and opportunistic on offense. On the other hand, Indiana is free-flowing, has the ball moving, and wants to rain 3s.

The teams are led by stars perfect for their systems — and two guys who became friends during the World Cup in the Philapeans last summer.

Jalen Brunson is the undersized, downhill-driving, physical star who has had to carry the New York offense through the playoffs. Dallas let Brunson walk out the door to New York, where he has become one of the game's elite.

For the Pacers, it's Tyrese Haliburton running a free-flowing, up-tempo game. Haliburton is one of the league's best passers and is the kind of guy other players want to play with and run hard for because they will be rewarded.

It sets up a clash of styles in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals that should be entertaining.

When does the Pacers vs. Knicks series begin?

Game One between the Pacers and Knicks will be played on Tuesday, May 6, at 8 ET in Madison Square Garden in Manhattan, and it will be broadcast on TNT.

Minnesota Denver Playoffs Schedule 2024

All times are Eastern (* = if necessary).

Game 1: Pacers at Knicks, May 6 (7:30 ET, TNT)
Game 2: Pacers at Knicks, May 8 (8 ET, TNT)
Game 3: Knicks at Pacers, May 10 (7 ET, TNT)
Game 4: Knicks at Pacers, May 12 (3:30 ET, ABC)
Game 5: Pacers at Knicks, May 14 (TBD, TNT)*
Game 6: Knicks at Pacers; May 17 (TBD, ESPN)*
Game 7: Pacers at Knicks, May 19 (TBD, TBD)*

Three things to watch for in Indiana vs. New York

1) Who controls the pace?

The Knicks want this series to look like when these teams were rivals — a physical, slow, grinding 1990s kind of game where Brunson dominates in the half-court. The Pacers want this series to be played in the modern style — up-tempo, a lot of transition offense and 3-pointers with Haliburton finding teammates all over the court.

Whichever team forces the game to be played in its style will win this series — and we'll discuss that more in item No. 3.

However, in Game 1 on Monday night, don't be surprised if the Knicks come out and — metaphorically — punch the Pacers in the mouth. Indiana beat a shorthanded Milwaukee team that was easier for them to defend, which allowed Indiana to get out and run, and the Bucks weren't very physical. Playing the Knicks in Madison Square Garden is going to be a culture shock. It could take the Pacers a game to get into the flow of what it will take to win this series.

2) Can the Pacers defend Jalen Brunson?

The Knicks might be the most heliocentric team left in the playoffs — Jalen Brunson is their everything — but the Pacers are not a great defensive team, and are an especially poor match to slow Brunson.

Look for Andrew Nembhard to get the initial assignment on Brunson, but this will have to be a team effort with help coming from everywhere. Don't be surprised if Pascal Siakam ultimately gets the assignment, but Aaron Nesmith and T.J. McConnell will get turns.

Unlike Philadelphia — who the Knicks beat in the last round — Indiana does not have an elite rim protector behind that front line. Myles Turner can block some shots but he's not an intimidating force in the paint. Will the Pacers pack their defense in a little, try to form a shell, and dare the Knicks to beat them from 3? This could be a big Donte DiVincenzo series.

3) Stat to watch: Knicks offensive rebounds

Against the 76ers in the first round, the Knicks grabbed the offensive rebound on 32.2% of their missed shots, and those second-chance points changed the series. Mitchell Robinson and Isaiah Hartenstein were a force on the offensive glass.

For the season, the Indiana Pacers were one of the worst defensive rebounding teams in the league (they grabbed 74.1% of opponent missed shots, 26th in the league).

If the Pacers are going to turn this series into a track meet, they need to get stops, get the rebound, and then get out and run. If the Knicks' big men — and hustle plays from guys like Josh Hart — give their team second chances, they will win the series.

Offensive rebounds is a stat that will be a bellwether for the series.

Prediction: Knicks in five

If Haliburton can find his pre-injury form — even just for a couple of games — then this quickly becomes a six or seven-game series. Peak Indiana and peak Haliburton can play with New York, but he hasn't consistently been the same since his hamstring injury. New York is playing too well right now, and this is just not a great matchup for the Pacers.