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Jalen Brunson’s Return Ignites Knicks to 2-0 Series Lead

Jalen Brunson's Return Ignites Knicks to 2-0 Series Lead

The New York Knicks centre, Isaiah Hartenstein, described hearing the electrifying roar from the locker room at Madison Square Garden.

The enthusiastic response came when Jalen Brunson, who had exited with a right foot injury late in the first quarter of Wednesday night’s Game 2 against the Indiana Pacers, re-entered the court during halftime to test his foot.

The moment Brunson walked through the tunnel, the crowd’s cheers intensified, echoing so loudly that Hartenstein and his teammates could hear it from their lockers. Brunson had to ask fans to lower the volume so he could concentrate on his game.

Brunson’s Impact and MVP Chants

The MVP chants Brunson received as he returned to the court motivated him to lead the short-handed Knicks in the second half. His comeback injected energy into the team, aiding their efforts to stage a comeback and ultimately secure a 130-121 victory over the Pacers.

The win gives the Knicks a 2-0 series lead in the conference semifinals.

“He’s a great leader, and the players all respect him for giving his all,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “His actions speak louder than words; they show how much he cares about his team and his teammates.”

As the series now shifts to Indianapolis for Games 3 and 4, New York’s victory came at a cost. Star defender OG Anunoby, who scored a playoff career-high 28 points in 28 minutes, limped off the court in the third quarter with a left hamstring injury and did not return.

Thibodeau stated that he had not yet received an update from the team’s medical staff regarding Anunoby’s injury.

The Knicks’ injury struggles initially provided openings for Indiana, who capitalized on the home team’s offensive difficulties without Brunson.

Tyrese Haliburton’s bounce-back performance, coupled with T.J. McConnell’s efficient playmaking, allowed the Pacers to dominate the latter part of the first half, resulting in a 73-63 lead at halftime.

However, history repeated itself as Brunson’s return from the locker room ignited the crowd’s excitement, reminiscent of Willis Reed’s legendary Game 7 appearance in the 1970 NBA Finals.

Knicks Overcome Pacers’ Resistance and Officiating Woes

Brunson’s presence, along with the Pacers’ efforts to trap him, changed the course of the game. Within the first five and a half minutes of the second half, the Knicks made a 15-point swing to take a five-point lead.

The contest remained a back-and-forth affair, but the Knicks managed to edge ahead in the final quarter.

Late in the game, the Pacers’ attempts to rally were marred by controversy. An official initially called a double dribble on Hartenstein, which would have granted possession to Indiana.

However, the referees later overturned the call, citing an inadvertent whistle and giving the ball back to New York.

Pacers coach Rick Carlisle expressed frustration with the officiating, receiving two technical fouls and being ejected.

This decision came on the heels of another officiating error in Game 1, when Indiana was denied a potential fast break due to a disputed kicked ball violation.

Despite Indiana’s strong performance, including Haliburton’s 34-point game, the Knicks’ resilience and Brunson’s leadership proved too much for the Pacers to overcome.

Knicks’ Season-Long Injury Challenges

The Knicks’ injury issues have been a recurring theme throughout the season. Backup center Mitchell Robinson was ruled out six to eight weeks with an ankle injury the day before Game 2, likely ending his postseason.

Additionally, the team had already lost wing Bojan Bogdanovic and two-time All-NBA forward Julius Randle for the season due to various injuries.

Thibodeau has been forced to play his starters significant minutes to compensate for these losses. Josh Hart played all 48 minutes of Tuesday’s game, marking the fourth time he has done so this postseason.

Similarly, Anunoby averaged 46 minutes over the four games preceding Tuesday, a career high for the forward.

The Knicks will need to navigate their injury challenges as they head into Games 3 and 4 in Indianapolis, with hopes of maintaining their momentum in the conference semifinals.


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