Seventh Heaven: Knicks pull out gut-check win over Pacers

Jalen Brunson, New York Knicks
Dec 18, 2022; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; New York Knicks guard Jalen Brunson (11) shoots the ball while Indiana Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton (0) defends in the second quarter at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

After Tyrese Haliburton found Aaron Nesmith for a wide-open dunk that extended the Indiana Pacers’ lead to six with 1:56 left, New York Knicks point guard Jalen Brunson refused to lose.

Brunson stamped his imprint on the Knicks’ seventh win in a row — a gut-check 109-106 victory Sunday night at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

The scrappy Knicks point guard scored the final five of his 30 points in the next two possessions that cut the Pacers’ lead to one. Then Julius Randle finished off the Pacers with six straight clutch free throws.

“We stay poised, composed and then we stuck together and we just didn’t quit.”

Jalen Brunson postgame via MSG Network

Tyrese Haliburton tried a last-ditch effort to rally the Pacers but missed a three-pointer at the buzzer.

The Knicks’ defense tightened down the stretch, limiting the Pacers to only two free throws in their last six possessions.

Brunson shot 11 of 22 from the field, his second straight strong performance after suffering a contused right foot exactly seven days ago.

“Point Guard is a leadership position. [Brunson’s] job is to manage and control the game. And so I think that’s, what he does very well, and I think Jules (Randle) helps with that as well. And RJ (Barrett) does too, but Jalen is the point guard. So he’s, he’s the guy in charge.

Tom Thibodeau postgame via MSG Network

Randle did not shoot well (7 of 17) but came up huge at the foul line and on the defensive end down the stretch. His defense on Haliburton preserved the Knicks’ sixth straight win on the road, their first such winning streak since the 2012-13 season.

“I think [Randle] has taken a lot of pride [in his defense]. It’s allowed us to do more switching.”

Tom Thibodeau postgame via MSG Network

Despite struggling from the field, Randle still wound up with monster numbers — 25 points and 14 rebounds — as Pacers coach Rick Carlisle had an omen of what was to come before the game.

“Having to deal with Randle. He’s just a beast right now. I don’t know if there’s anyone in the league one-on-one who can handle what he’s doing right now.”

Rick Carlisle pregame interview via Indianapolis Star’s Dustin Dopirak

RJ Barrett quietly continued his efficient play with 24 points on 10 of 19 shots.

Quentin Grimes cooled off after back-to-back double-digit scoring with six points. But his lone field goal — a timely three-pointer — sliced a Pacers’ four-point lead to one, 99-98, with 3:04 left.

Mitchell Robinson had a monster first half (6 points, 8 rebounds and 4 blocks) that helped the Knicks stay afloat. His double-double (10 points, 13 rebounds, 4 blocks) led the Knicks’ paint dominance — plus-5 and plus-12 in rebounding and points in the paint — which atoned for their 8 of 26 three-point shooting.

But Grimes and Brunson made timely hits from deep to keep them from falling apart in the face of great danger.

The Knicks (16-13) are now three games above .500 and firmly entrenched at the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference with a one-game lead over the Miami Heat (16-15). They trail the fifth-seed Philadelphia 76ers (16-12) by just half a game, facing them at the tail end of an upcoming four-game home stand.

The Knicks travel back home to host the Stephen Curry-less Golden State Warriors on Tuesday, followed by the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday in a tough back-to-back schedule that will pose great threat on their winning streak.

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