Knicks And Pacers Renew Rivalry For A Spot In The Eastern Conference Finals

Knicks & Pacers
Published by NYSB Staff
Last Updated: 17. May 2024.

One of the NBA's most heated rivalries will reignite when the New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers butt heads in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The Pacers took the season series, 2-1, including a 125-111 victory in February at Madison Square Garden.

Historical Playoff Encounters

New York eliminated Indiana in the first round of the 1993 playoffs and the 1994 Eastern Conference finals behind the stellar play of Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley, and John Starks. However, the Pacers and Reggie Miller defeated the Knicks in the semifinals the following season, and the fledgling rivalry became even more bitter.

The conference rivals renewed their battle in 1998 with Indiana clinching the semifinal series in five games but the eight-seeded Knicks knocked off the Pacers in the conference finals a year later to advance to the NBA Finals. The two squads met again the following season in the East Finals with Indiana advancing to the NBA Championship series for the first time in franchise history.

Key Matchups & Players

While both teams have struggled in recent years, a pair of talented floor generals will play a huge role in determining which organization reaches the conference finals this season.

"First of all, you've got a matchup of two of the really elite point guards," noted TNT analyst and former NBA head coach Stan Van Gundy. "Different types of players, for sure. But two of the absolute best. I don't put a lot into the regular season in terms of, well Indiana won 2 out of 3. I don't think any of that matters. But Jalen (Brunson) had a 40-point game against Indiana. (Tyrese) Haliburton had a 23-assist game against New York. I think we're in for some great guard play."

Off-Court Friendship, On-Court Rivals

The two All-Star point guards became friends when both played for Team USA last summer. It's a blossoming friendship that will take a back seat when the pair tangle on the hardwood.

"Great player. Didn't really know him until — like, I knew of him, we met a couple of times — but we didn't really become friends until last summer," Brunson said recently. "Great guy, great family. He became one of my friends, obviously through that , and I have all the respect in the world for him and the way he plays the game. He goes out there and plays the right way and does what he needs to do."

Haliburton was a first-time Eastern Conference starter for the 2024 NBA All-Star Game, played in Indianapolis. The 12th overall pick in the 2020 NBA draft, he also made the 2024 Olympic roster last month. The Wisconsin native has averaged 20 points and 10 assists in each of the previous two seasons.

"Literally, the first call I had after we made the playoffs was a FaceTime with Jalen," Haliburton said. "So we're pretty good friends, but it's competition and fully excited to play against those guys."

Strategy & Expectations

The Knicks will have to put on their track shoes to keep up with the pace of Haliburton and the Pacers' high-octane offense. Indiana led the NBA in scoring and was the league's second-fastest team in terms of the number of possessions a team gets per 48 minutes. But Knicks' head coach Tom Thibodeau is confident New York's defense will rise to the occasion.

"It how you would define pace," Thibodeau said. "I think we were fifth in scoring . I think we're probably second in fast-break points. Then when you look at total shot attempts, we're always at the top.

"So it's however you get there. I told you, you can make stats say whatever you want, but the most important one is the net rating. And so, that's what we look at. You wanna be strong on offense and defense. I think we were fifth in offensive rating. We'll be challenged again, and our defense has to be great."

The Knicks have tabbed Donte DiVincenzo to guard Haliburton, who led the NBA with 10.9 assists per game during the regular season. The 6-foot-5 playmaker shot just 1-for-6 from behind the arc with DiVincenzo as the primary defender in their three matchups. As bettors analyze these defensive stats, top NBA sportsbooks are adjusting the odds, reflecting DiVincenzo's impact on Haliburton's performance.

Before his breakout as a three-point artist, DiVincenzo was an above-average perimeter defender. The 2018 NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player limited Philadelphia sharpshooter Tyrese Maxey to 17 points in Game 6 after the Dallas native entered the game averaging 32.4 points.

"I was very locked in for that game, honestly. The series initially wasn't going personally my way; but also it was that internal conversation of getting myself going guarding Tyrese and getting back to who I am," said DiVincenzo, who'll face a different challenge with Haliburton.

"It's collectively what wants to get to, and what do we want to take away? What do we want to live with throughout the series, and it’s gonna be a back-and-forth battle of that. It's competing. No matter what Tyrese likes to get to, if you compete hard enough on the ball, it takes some of that stuff away."

Playoff Motivation & Performance

Another interesting storyline will be if Brunson is motivated to beat his former coach with the Mavericks, Rick Carlisle. The former Dallas coach played Brunson just 10 minutes in a Game 7 setback to the Clippers before returning for his second stint calling the shots for the Pacers.

"In all honesty, I said this last time, you're in the playoffs now, there is no extra motivation," Brunson said. "It is what it is. The past is the past. Rick welcomed me into the league, helped me become the player (I am today), and helped me grow from Day 1. 

"Coaches got to make decisions that better suit their teams. Whatever happened, happened, and we're moving forward from there." 

Brunson, who became the first player to finish off an NBA playoff series with three straight 40+-point games since Michael Jordan in 1989, averaged 28.7 points and 6.7 assists during the regular season. He also poured in 35.7 points per game in three contests against the Pacers this season. But he focuses on helping the Knicks win their first title since 1973.

"No matter what the situation is we're going to attack it. I just think that no matter who's in front of us or whatever we’re going to go out there, play our style of basketball," Brunson said. "We're going to grind. We're going to respect our opponent. We're going to know it's always going to be a difficult situation no matter who you're playing in this league."

Betting Perspectives on the Conference Finals

As the Eastern Conference semifinals heat up with the Knicks and Pacers squaring off, basketball fans and bettors alike are turning their attention to the odds and potential outcomes. For those looking to place bets, researching the best NY betting sites can provide insights into the latest odds and predictions for the games. 

Whether you're a seasoned bettor or just starting, understanding how each team's performance might influence the betting lines could be crucial. With both teams demonstrating strong plays and key matchups, betting on this series could add an extra layer of excitement as the conference finals approach.

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