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May 5, 2024 4:37 pm

Knicks’ Jalen Brunson, Pacers’ Rick Carlisle have history as series begins

jalen brunson

Jalen Brunson leads all the NBA players in scoring during the postseason, and he may still harbor a grudge against Indiana coach Rick Carlisle, stemming from their time together with the Dallas Mavericks.

Hard to imagine Brunson needs any extra motivation as he leads the New York Knicks into the opening game of the Eastern Conference second-round series against the visiting Pacers on Monday night.

Sixth-seeded Indiana eliminated the third-seeded Milwaukee Bucks in the first round, while the second-seeded Knicks ousted the seventh-seeded Philadelphia 76ers in their opening series. Both series ended in six games.

Brunson led the way for the Knicks with a 35.5 ppg scoring average and scored 39, 47, 40 and 41 over the final four games of the series.

Brunson is a bona fide star in his second season in New York but that wasn’t the case when he was a member of the Mavericks, who faced the Los Angeles Clippers during the first round of the 2021 playoffs.

Dallas let a 3-2 series lead get away and as things disintegrated in Game 7, Brunson watched from the bench. The highly competitive guard played just 10 minutes, scoring two points in a 126-111 defeat.

“In all honesty, I said this last time, you’re in the playoffs now, there is no extra motivation,” Brunson told reporters when asked about his unhappiness at the time. “It is what it is. The past is the past. Rick welcomed me into the league and helped me become the player (I am today) and helped me grow from Day 1.”

That Game 7 loss was Carlisle’s final game in Dallas. Now in his third season with the Pacers, he fears Brunson but doesn’t think a coaching decision made three seasons ago has any bearing on the current series.

“Jalen Brunson is a guy you would never bet against,” Carlisle told reporters. “You just don’t bet against that guy. I don’t know if anybody saw this coming, what he’s achieved for two years now, but if you know him and you know his character, you’re not surprised. You’re not shocked.”

The Pacers went 2-1 against New York in the regular season but Brunson made an impact by averaging 35.7 points.

“The last two times we played him he had 40 in one game and 39 in the other,” Carlisle said. “He’s leading the playoffs in scoring average. It’s pretty obvious that he established a very high level during the season, and he’s maintained and/or exceeded it in the postseason, and that’s hard to do.”

Brunson departed Dallas after the following season as a free agent en route to becoming a star with the Knicks.

“Coaches got to make decisions that better suit their teams,” Brunson said of Carlisle. “Whatever happened, happened, and we’re moving forward from there.”

This will be the eighth time the Pacers and Knicks have met in the postseason with Indiana holding a 4-3 lead.

Six of the meetings came in an eight-season span (1993-2000) when Reggie Miller was the star of the Pacers. Those series were filled with drama and memorable moments.

Indiana will rely on its top-rated offense (123.3 ppg in the regular season) in this series, while the Knicks are stingy, ranking second in scoring defense at 108.2.

Tyrese Haliburton makes the Pacers go with help from big men Pascal Siakam and Myles Turner.

But in the clinching win over Milwaukee on Thursday, it was a pair of reserves, former Knick Obi Toppin (21 points) and T.J. McConnell (20), leading the way in the 120-98 victory.

“It means a lot,” McConnell said. “Not getting into the playoffs since the bubble, not being able to advance since 2014, we take great pride in being able to advance and extend our season.”

–Field Level Media

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