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Tom Thibodeau: After battling all year, Knicks had ‘nothing left to give at the end’

The Knicks’ season was defined by conquering a mountain of adversity, a growing injury list, and wearing down opponents with tough defense and timely offensive spurts. In Game 7 on Sunday against the Indiana Pacers, the first half of that equation was there, but the second half was not as New York fell 130-109 at Madison Square Garden to end its season.

After the deflating defeat, the diagnosis from the head coach was rather simple.

“We started slow and they’re a good offensive team,” Tom Thibodeau said, referencing the Pacers opening the game by connecting on 10 of their first 11 shots en route to a 16-for-21 first quarter and a 12-point lead.

“We made a run, thought the end of the second we played pretty good, we got some activity going,” Thibodeau continued. “Then we made a run in the third, and then we fell short. I thought guys gave everything they had and that’s all you could ask.

“It was a battle all year and there was nothing left to give at the end.”

There was not much left in terms of energy reserves or bodies – after losing Julius Randle in January for the season, losing Bojan Bogdanovic in the opening playoff series against Philadelphia, losing Mitchell Robinson in Game 1 against Indiana, OG Anunoby returning but lasting just five minutes in Game 7 and Josh Hart laboring through an abdominal strain  – Jalen Bruson left the game late in the third quarter with a fractured left hand.

“Yeah, it’s just unfortunate, you hate to see all the injuries,” Thibs said. “Josh and OG just try to give us whatever they had, it says a lot about them. And then it was hit after hit, that was part of it. And guys responded all year long. I’m disappointed in the sense that we’re not gonna play anymore, but I thought they were a great group to be around. And they gave everything they had.”

Despite their season ending with back-to-back defeats after taking a 3-2 series lead, when asked if he considered the season a success the head coach praised the effort his squad put in through the challenges.

“The thing as a coach you always measure 'what does the group have?' and 'are we getting everything out of the group?'" he said. “And the only thing you could ask for is [that] everyone puts forth their best effort. And we got that all year from these guys. And what I think goes along with that is peace of mind in knowing that you did your best. And, so that’s all you could ask for.

“And a lot of teams I think would have folded and they didn’t…. It was hit after hit, but these guys never folded. They kept fighting. It was all you could ask for.”

There was no stopping the Pacers who shot 67.1 percent (53-for-79) from the field, good for an NBA playoff record

“They made shots. They’re a very good offensive team,” Thibodeau said. “You gotta challenge their shots. And we probably didn’t challenge them as well as we should have. When you’re short-handed, we know we have to play with great intensity all the time to give ourselves a chance to win.

“If you fall short of that, sometimes the ball goes in and yours doesn’t. But I thought for the most part we fought all year.”

The Knicks whittled down a 22-point first-half lead to 15 at the interval and drew as close as 73-67 with 6:58 to play in the third quarter. But Indiana came up trumps on all occasions.

“To come back (in the) third quarter and make a run again, and then we fell short and that’s when Jalen, I knew when he went out in the third I knew something was awry,” the head coach said.

Looking back at the year, Thibodeau isn’t coming away with his head down.

“I could live with the result. It’s disappointing. In the end, there can only be one happy team, everyone [else] falls short, 29 teams will fall short,” he said. “So if you’ve given everything you’ve had, you can live with whatever the result is, there’s no regret. This team fought like crazy.

“In many ways, they exceeded everyone’s expectations. Except probably our own, we wanted to keep going. We always had the belief that we had enough, whoever was in there.”