Pacers’ defensive scheme on Knicks’ Jalen Brunson could impact the remainder of their ECSF series

May 12, 2024; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; New York Knicks guard Jalen Brunson (11) shoots the ball while  Indiana Pacers forward Aaron Nesmith (23) defends during game four of the second round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Knicks have run into trouble against the Indiana Pacers with the series tied at 2-2, and one defensive strategy the Pacers are employing on Knicks All-Star Jalen Brunson could play a huge role moving forward.

The Pacers’ full-court pressure has been affecting Jalen Brunson

May 8, 2024; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks guard Jalen Brunson (11) celebrates in the fourth quarter  after scoring against the Indiana Pacers during game two of the second round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports
May 8, 2024; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks guard Jalen Brunson (11) celebrates in the fourth quarter after scoring against the Indiana Pacers during game two of the second round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

The Pacers have applied full-court pressure on Brunson, who is fighting through a foot injury sustained in Game 2, in attempts to speed up the Knicks’ offense and disrupt their half-court sets.

Brian Lewis of the New York Post shared quotes from TJ McConnell and Myles Turner, who spoke after Game 4 about how their defensive intensity has bothered the Knicks and will help them try to take a 3-2 series lead:

“We need to make him [Brunson] work as much as possible and try to exert as much energy because if you make him comfortable there’s not many people in this league that can guard him. He’s obviously a great player and we’ve got to keep picking him up 94 feet and try to make things tough on him,” McConnell said.

“Picking them up full court and pressuring, denying and just playing that brand of basketball speeds the game up for them. But it’s just part of our brand, as well … and we’re going to keep playing our brand of basketball..” Turner said.

Knicks: Brunson has been impacted by the Pacers’ 94-feet defense

May 12, 2024; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA;  New York Knicks guard Jalen Brunson (11) holds the ball while Indiana Pacers forward Aaron Nesmith (23) defends during game four of the second round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Brunson has given the Pacers a lot to deal with as the leading scorer left in these 2024 NBA Playoffs. Of his 32.9 points per game, 11.7 have come in the pick-and-roll and another 7.8 have come in isolation. Both play types necessitate coordinated offensive schemes in the half-court.

The Pacers have put Aaron Nesmith in Brunson’s way to try and slow him down. It has worked in Games 3 and 4.

The Villanova product was averaging a monster 36 points per game on 56.8-40-90 shooting in New York’s first two home wins. That has changed on the road.

He’s fallen to 22 PPG on 37.2 percent shooting from the field and 18.2 percent from the three-point line. Alarmingly, his free throw percentage, which full-court pressure has no bearings on, has plummeted to 62.5 percent. His FT attempts have declined from 10 a game to eight. Brunson’s not taking advantage of the swarming defense to get defenders tangled up and draw whistles.

A testament to how the Pacers’ ball hounds have bothered the injured Brunson, is seen in his 5.5-3.5 assist-to-turnover ratio in Games 3 and 4.

Knicks’ wilted offense on the road needs amendment ahead of Game 5

The Knicks as a unit have combined for 195 points over the last two games of the series as opposed to the 251 they put up in the first two contests.

Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau may need to entertain playing a second ball-handler next to Brunson much more, especially while he continues to play on a bum ankle. What was once a commanding 2-0 series lead is now a tied series that could go either way. If the Knicks want to reach their first Eastern Conference Finals since 2000, they’ll need to juggle keeping Brunson healthy and executing their offense to thwart the Pacers.

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