4 things to watch as Knicks face Pacers in second round of 2024 NBA Playoffs

After a riveting 4-2 first-round win against the Philadelphia 76ers, the Knicks have little time for rest. The offensively effervescent Indiana Pacers come into Madison Square Garden on Monday night for a second-round clash. The series will offer a multitude of contrasting styles.

The Pacers like to run and gun while the Knicks usually have a more methodical offensive approach. The Knicks are a physical team on defense and on the boards, while Indiana is more of a finesse team that relies on moving the ball around and a deep bench.

Let’s dig into a few aspects of the series to pay close attention to.

Point guard showdown

Jalen Brunson is coming off arguably the best stretch of his career, scoring at least 40 points and handing out at least six assists in the last three games. After battling with 76ers All-Star Tyrese Maxey, Brunson has Tyrese Haliburton next on the schedule.

It’s safe to say neither player will be guarding each other much. Some combination of OG Anunoby, Donte DiVincenzo and Miles McBride will guard Haliburton, and Pacers perimeter players Andrew Nembhard and Aaron Nesmith could take turns defending Brunson.

Brunson has outplayed Haliburton in the second half of the season, but he was an early-season MVP candidate for a reason. Both point guards’ individual performances will dictate how this series goes.

Defending the pick and pop/roll

Haliburton is the maestro of the Pacers’ offense, hitting teammates with precision passes and keeping the defense honest with his threatening stepback three-pointer. Early in Indiana’s first-round series win against the Milwaukee Bucks, Haliburton dominated as a passer, recording 36 assists in the first three games.

He was deadly in the pick and roll, setting up Pascal Siakam and Myles Turner. Siakam was great the first two games but Turner particularly was effective. He knocked down 17 threes in the first four games as Bucks center Brook Lopez was slow to come out and contest.

In a mid-series adjustment, Bucks head coach Doc Rivers had his team switch screens. The adjustment worked for the most part. Turner took just seven three-point attempts in the final two games after attempting 34 threes in the first five games.

The Knicks generally play a traditional drop coverage in the pick and roll. With centers like Isaiah Hartenstein and Mitchell Robinson who prefer to hang around the paint and contain drives, Turner could get going early in the series with some clean three-point looks.

Out-pacing the Pacers

The Pacers and Knicks are stylistically oil and water. Indiana finished second in pace during the regular season. They also finished second in offensive efficiency.

The Knicks were last in pace during the regular season. They have done a good job of controlling the pace while also being able to run situationally. In the playoffs, they are tied for third among the 16 playoff teams in percentage of points scored on fast breaks (14.5 percent).

Over the past few years, the Knicks have found their formula for winning playoff games. When New York dominates the glass, they usually win. Against the 76ers, the Knicks outrebounded Philadelphia 273-247. New York also had 20 offensive rebounds in the series finale.

Like the 76ers, the Pacers are a weak rebounding team. They finished 26th in defensive rebound rate during the regular season. If New York can keep turnovers down and control the glass, it can prevent Indiana from getting out in transition.

Extending the rotation

After Bojan Bogdanovic’s early exit in Game 4, coach Tom Thibodeau has gone to a seven-man rotation. Four of the Knicks’ five starters played at least 43 minutes in Thursday night’s series clincher. In the Game 5 overtime loss on Tuesday, three starters played 50 minutes or more.

In Indiana’s series-clinching 120-98 win, only two Pacers played over 35 minutes, Nembhard (37 minutes and two seconds) and Siakam (35 minutes and 12 seconds). No Pacers player has played over 40 minutes in a playoff game outside their Game 3 overtime win.

It feels unsustainable to run a seven-man rotation through the playoffs, especially with a quick turnaround for a new series. Can Thibodeau buy some time with Alec Burks early in this series? Precious Achiuwa could see some action since Indiana has excised backup centers Jalen Smith and Isaiah Jackson from the rotation in favor of an Obi Toppin-Siakam-led frontcourt lineup.