Breaking down the key points to Knicks' Game 1 win over Pacers

The Knicks have a chance Wednesday to take a commanding series lead against Indiana. Ninety-three percent of 554 teams with a 2-0 series lead in NBA history have won that series. The Knicks played a choppy game on Monday night in the series opener.

Below, Brendan Brown – who has spent three decades in the NBA as a scout, coach and television analyst – breaks down the intricacies of Game 1 and how they apply to Game 2.


BROWN: "So the Knicks are playing a new team, different individual matchups for Brunson, and he rolls off 10 quick points at the beginning of the game. From that point on, he is held in check until the start of the fourth quarter by (Andrew) Nembhard, (Aaron) Nesmith and (TJ) McConnell. As a group, their bigs show hard or even trap at times, and it is pretty effective… but this is Rick Carlisle’s first shot at Brunson in a playoff fourth quarter.

In pick and rolls, they played him more to the level of the screen- it’s called a 'string' - but he can keep his dribble alive versus that. So like Game 4 in the Sixers series, he can get good looks in the fourth quarter. The Knicks also went to a lot of guard-guard pick-and-roll late in the fourth to promote some switching. This gives Brunson space and Indiana did not trap him. The difference for last night is that Brunson went 14-for-14 from the line, whereas he only shot 77 percent in the Sixers series. Every point counts here.

So after last night, Brunson is now averaging 11 free throw attempts on 81 percent shooting. That is major 'A' player stuff under pressure. For the game, he shot 14-for-26 (53.8 percent), went 1-for-4 on threes and 14-for-14 from the free throw line. Six assists to four turnovers and was a plus-12 in 44 minutes."


BROWN: "If you are going to commit to Brunson with a double team, you have to go at him hard on a trap. Nesmith kind of went halfway up there - slowly sliding up in the middle ground - and never really got there. Brunson could see the whole play developing. It was an easy pass - maybe not as easy if there had been more pressure applied in a trap. (Tyrese) Haliburton was the next rotation up from the baseline - but that generally is a hard rotation to make – even harder against a clean pass. So that leaves (Donte) DiVincenzo with his favorite arc three - and he is already having an excellent half. Just a fumble by Indiana in a major spot. And Brunson is sensing the doubles better with every passing playoff game.

Moving forward, does Indiana approach the fourth and the crunch-time minutes differently? All of the Knicks’ starters scored in double figures - no guy was having a weak offensive game. OG (Anunoby) could shoot a little better. But it wasn’t like you were leaving a cold shooter. In the end, the Pacers let Brunson score 21 points in the fourth to beat them. He made some tough ones - he was blanketed on a timely three-pointer - but are you just going to let him play one-on-one and beat you? It will be interesting to see how it plays out…

From Game 4 on against the Sixers, I have felt that Brunson would get cleaner looks than (Tyrese) Maxey and (Joel) Embiid at the end and they won all those games. But you can’t allow him to roam at any cost; both last night and against the Sixers, he has made key transition threes to get himself rolling in the fourth. If you lose him there, you deserve to lose.”


Hart's stat line on Monday night: 24 points on 9-for-13 shooting (69 percent), 1 for 1 on threes, 5 for 8 from the free-throw line; 13 rebounds (4 offensive) eight assists, five turnovers, three steals and one block in 48 minutes

BROWN: “Well, this is called stuffing the stat sheet. After seven playoff games, Hart is now averaging 46.6 minutes per game. When you play 40, 41, 42…that is considered major in NBA terms. The other big part to what he is doing? He is getting to the line 5.4 times a game (68 percent on FTs). And no other Knick is doing so – outside of Brunson - in that category. Offensive rebounding and free throw attempts go hand in hand; your defender is out of position.

Hart’s strategy was different [Monday] night on offense; he only attempted one three – much fewer than he attempted in the Sixers series. Indiana has shot-blocking but Hart made several good drives versus the weakside closeouts. You know he is going to do that on the break but now more in the halfcourt. In the playoffs, Indiana’s defense has been better, more real. But they will still give up an easy basket or two per quarter and Hart is the guy who can generate those types of plays while driving, cutting or getting on the glass.


BROWN: “In the regular season, the Pacers had the second-highest pace number. If you followed them closely, Carlisle would play 10 or even 11 guys in the regular rotation. Last night, when the Pacers missed a bunch of open threes and struggled at the start, Carlisle subbed very liberally. And McConnell, (Obi) Toppin and (Isaiah) Jackson provided some good energy right away. This is how they function; they believe in the nine guys they are going to play in this series.

There is no hesitancy to go to the bench. At all. McConnell and Haliburton are a good combination that they use at different parts of the game; they can get into the paint. Here’s the troubling part from last night: the Indiana bench was 21-for-34 (61.7 percent), 4-for-8 from three, and 0-for-1 on free throws in the game. Yes, they are scoring- but at times, they are scoring easily. So unless the Knicks bench gets going- it’s like five versus nine – and that could be very hard to contend with when the series shifts to Indiana. Knicks must win at home."


BROWN: “Watching the latter stages of the Bucks series, it looks like Haliburton is avoiding shooting the ball, or looking for that. In the playoffs, he is taking 13 shots a game – but eight of them are threes. In the last five playoff games, he has taken 74 shots - 49 of which have been threes. But the big point is that he has only taken five free throws in the last 5 games - that’s major.

They say he has a back injury. He hasn’t played the same since coming off the hamstring injury. He was dominant before the injury in that first third of the season. He was actually better than Brunson in that time period. But that is not the case now- not by a long shot. Many Pacers had good games last night, but Haliburton’s aversion to shooting hurt. If you are a Knicks fan, you might say, ‘We shut him down.’ No, he is shutting himself down.

Ninety percent of the Pacers halfcourt offense is pick-and-roll sets; two other plays are for (Pascal) Siakam. If Haliburton isn’t going to look to score, the Knicks can re-rotate after a one count, after he passes the ball. If this continues, the Knicks will win the series.


BROWN: “I worked on the basketball side of this league for 12 seasons and I never heard a player ever say 'I’m not shooting at the end of the quarter to protect my stats and my shooting percentage.' Not once…never ever. I was with two teams where it was addressed and the concept was: if you have a clear pathway, let it fly. If you don’t, don’t shoot it. Now of course, this is the playoffs, so you shoot every time- that was a big three points in a four-point win. And the Pacers had momentum, but then it was only a six-point lead at the half.

Over the years, this became a big media narrative; you are a selfish NBA player if you don’t shoot the end-of-quarter shot. I know coaches who have that thought out. For example: Hart is a loose ball guy- he could get one of these shots once every 10 games. So that would be eight missed heaves. His field-goal percentage would go from 43.4 to 42.2 by shooting them. His three-point percentage would go from 31 percent to 30.3 percent by flinging the prayers.

Josh Hart has a great contract right now and plays his a—off. I don’t think at this moment, that he was concerned about some prayers in the regular season. Not at all…bigger fish to fry…one of dumbest basketball concepts of all time.”