The Pacers and Knicks are hoping to make most of their second chances with closeout wins

Wed, May 1, 2024
NBA News (AP)

The Pacers and Knicks are hoping to make most of their second chances with closeout wins

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - The Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks understand the stakes.

Second chances are rare in the NBA playoffs, and if these two franchises intend to change their recent postseason histories, neither can afford to blow another opportunity in an Eastern Conference elimination game on Thursday night.

Both teams have 3-2 series leads and must make quick adjustments to rebound from their Game 5 losses.

"We got a little stagnant, holding the ball and playing a little slower," Indiana guard Tyrese Haliburton said following Tuesday's 115-92 loss at Milwaukee. "When teams switch, it can kind of lull you into that. We've got to be better there. I'll be better there. Hell of an opportunity the next game back at home."

Indiana hasn't been to the Eastern Conference semifinals since beating Atlanta in 2014, but these Pacers have been defying trend lines all season.

The NBA's highest-scoring team made the playoffs for the first time since 2020 and snapped a franchise-record 10-game postseason losing streak last week. Indiana is seeking to go 3-0 at home in a playoff series for the first time since the first round against Atlanta in 2013.

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If the Pacers advance, they'll face the winner of the Philadelphia-New York series.

"We've just got to get better, go back - we are home - and get a win," said forward Pascal Siakam, who was part of Toronto's title-winning team in 2019. "Obviously being at home, the crowd, it's on us to just bring our energy and compete at the highest level."

The severely short-handed Bucks took advantage of their energetic hometown fans Tuesday.

Bobby Portis Jr. rebounded from his early ejection in Game 4 to score a playoff career-high 29 points in a season-saving win. He said the derogatory chants from Pacers fans will fuel him in Game 6.

The bigger question is whether two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo or eight-time All-Star Damian Lillard could return Thursday. Antetokounmpo has not played since straining his left calf on April 9 and only started working out this week.

Lillard missed the last two games with an injury to his right Achilles tendon.

Coach Doc Rivers said Tuesday night he thought the two were "very, very, very close" to making it back on the court with the possibility of a second straight first-round exit looming.

"This team, they're giving it to me. They're doing everything, they really are," Rivers said. "They're playing together. They know we're down men. They know they have to do it together. No one's trying to be the hero. From a coach's perspective, they've been amazing."

For the Knicks, who visit Philadelphia for Game 6 following a wild 112-106 overtime loss at home, their past postseason results haven't been much better than the Pacers.

While New York advanced to the second round last year for the first time since 2013, it was only the second time they've gotten that far since since Patrick Ewing left town following a 4-2 series loss in the 2000 Eastern Conference finals - to the Pacers. That also was the last time the Knicks made it past the first round in consecutive years, a drought that could end Thursday night.

"That's all it really comes down to, a mistake here or there, a missed shot here or there, a missed free throw here or there," Knicks guard Josh Hart said. "We've just got to make sure we're sharp mentally and I think we'll prepare and go out there and execute."

KNICKS AT 76ERS

Knicks lead 3-2. Game 6, 9 p.m. EDT, TNT

- NEED TO KNOW: Tyrese Maxey saved Philadelphia from elimination with seven points in the final 25 seconds of regulation. He finished with 46 in the Game 5 victory. The 76ers trailed by six points with 28 seconds left in regulation before Maxey's late scoring flurry evoked memories of Reggie Miller's eight points in nine seconds for Indiana at Madison Square Garden in 1995. With Joel Embiid ailing, the Sixers need Maxey to come through again if they want to force a Game 7 in New York.

- KEEP AN EYE ON: A Maxey repeat. Maxey had the most points by a Philadelphia player in an elimination game, surpassing Hall of Famer Allen Iverson's 44 in a Game 7 win against Milwaukee in the 2001 conference finals. The All-Star guard converted a four-point play with 25 seconds remaining to cut the deficit to two. After Hart made a free throw, Maxey's pull-up jumper from 35 feet tied the score at 97 with 8.1 seconds to go in front of a stunned crowd primed to celebrate a series-clinching victory.

INJURY WATCH: New York's Mitchell Robinson returned after missing Game 4 with a sprained left ankle, but the Knicks announced before the game that Bojan Bogdanovic would miss the rest of the playoffs and have surgery on the left foot he injured in Game 4. Embiid continues to battle a bad knee and Bell's palsy, and he wasn't his typical high-scoring self in Game 5 after coming into the game with an NBA-leading 35 points per game in the playoffs.

PRESSURE IS ON: The Sixers. It's win or head home for an extended summer vacation. They needed a fantastic finish to survive Game 5 and avoid what seemed like certain elimination. They'll need to pull out another Thursday, albeit in front of their home fans.

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