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Knicks eliminated from playoffs in 130-109 Game 7 loss to Pacers

There are many signs a car is running low on gas before it ultimately sputters to the side of the road.

A bright light flashes beneath the empty sign on the dashboard to signal the final 20 to 30 miles left in the tank.

The car itself becomes more difficult to control, with steering and braking compromised for the operator behind the wheel.

The engine might cough. The car might vibrate. And if you’re driving uphill, the power might cut out altogether.

Finally, the fuel supply falls short of the demand from the engine.

The sputtering sound signals the end of the road.

The Knicks reached the end of the road at Madison Square Garden in Game 7 against the Indiana Pacers, their engine sputtering off the hardwood floors to the tune of a 130-109 finish on Friday.

The engine that is All-Star guard Jalen Brunson gave out after a valiant season-long effort, checking out of Game 7 at the 3:02 mark of the third quarter with what the team called a fractured left hand.

Brunson said he fractured his hand in the third quarter after he went for a steal on Pacers All-Star Tyrese Haliburton, only to hit his leg instead.

“I thought I just jammed it, to be honest with you,” he said after the Game 7 loss. “I looked down and knew something was wrong.”

The series, however, had already been decided in Indiana’s favor prior to Brunson’s injury, and after they emerged victorious in a six-game first-round playoff series against the reigning league MVP Joel Embiid and his Philadelphia 76ers, the depleted, worn-down Knicks pushed the Pacers to the brink of elimination before running out of gas in the second round.

The Pacers will now advance to face the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals, with the winner advancing to the NBA Finals to face the Western Conference champions.

Indiana became the 34th team in NBA history to overcome an 0-2 deficit to win a playoff series, winning four of the final five games of the second-round series after dropping the first two at Madison Square Garden.

Which puts the Knicks in rare company given a whopping 92.7 percent of teams to take a 2-0 series lead eventually went on to win the series — up until Sunday afternoon’s season finale at The Garden.

“That was a good team. I’m not going to discredit them, not going to disrespect them. That’s a good team with a good coach and they fought,” said Josh Hart. “They came back from down 2-0. They had the chance to quit they didn’t, 3-2. Give them credit.”

And yet the signs were apparent.

The light signaling the Knicks were running low on gas blared midway through the first round, when both Mitchell Robinson and Bojan Bogdanovic sustained significant injuries, further hamstringing a team missing its three-time All-Star Julius Randle, who has been out since Jan. 27 with a dislocated right shoulder.

Robinson played in Game 1 of the second round before suffering a second, surgery-inducing stress injury to his left ankle.

OG Anunoby played in Game 1 then exited Game 2 with a left hamstring strain. He started in Game 7 on Sunday but only played the opening five minutes, clearly limited in his mobility, before checking out for the remainder of the game.

And Josh Hart played through an abdominal strain suffered in the Knicks’ Game 6 loss to the Pacers in Indianapolis on Friday.

And still, the Knicks never quit. They never felt like the injuries boiled to a point of no return.

“Obviously there’s times where you look and see someone getting hurt again, and it’s just like, ‘damn,’ but at the end of the day, we fought. We fought,” said Hart. “We put everything into this season. Guys played hurt. Guys put their bodies on the line. I think you saw that with everybody. Obviously didn’t pan out or play out the way we wanted it to, but I’m extremely proud of what we did this season.”

“This team is special in a way I can’t really explain,” added Brunson. “The way we just fought, the way we didn’t use excuses. We just kept finding ways to the best of our abilities, and that was our mindset. I just love the fact that we had that mindset.”

And still it took an all-time effort for the Pacers to put the Knicks to bed for good.

Brunson finished with 17 points and nine assists prior to his injury. Alec Burks scored 26 points in 27 minutes off the bench and Hart finished with 10 points, eight rebounds and five assists.

The effort wasn’t remotely enough to stop the Pacers, who started Game 7 shooting 75.7 percent from the field and 72.7 percent from three-point range through the first 21-and-a-half minutes on Sunday.

It was the best shooting half in a playoff game in the last 25 years, according to ESPN Stats and Info, surpassing the San Antonio Spurs’ first half in Game 3 of the 2014 NBA Finals against the Miami Heat.

Which is why fans in attendance at The Garden for Game 7 rose to their feet to cheer the end of a successful season.

They cheered when Hart fouled out at the three-minute mark of the fourth quarter.

They cheered when Donte DiVincenzo — who scored a game-high 39 points and set a new Game 7 record with nine made 3s on 15 attempts — checked out with less than 40 seconds left on the clock and the Knicks down 21.

And they chanted “Ja-len Brun-son” despite Brunson spending the fourth quarter in the locker room nursing his fractured hand.

The Knicks’ season ended Sunday afternoon, but a team stocked with draft assets and attractive trade chips is only getting started.

This team has given the front office a great foundation to build upon. Even in defeat, the future is bright at The Garden.

“It’s tough. [Winning] wasn’t in the cards for us,” said Hart. “We didn’t quit. We didn’t make excuses. We battled. And hopefully, New York can be proud of that and be hopeful for years to come.”