SI:AM | The Knicks Are Losing a War of Attrition

They’re running out of bodies and the Pacers have tied the series.
New York is struggling to keep guys on the floor this postseason.
New York is struggling to keep guys on the floor this postseason. / Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning, I’m Dan Gartland. One of the things I hate most in sports is the piecemeal release of the NFL schedule

In today’s SI:AM:

🏎️ Pacers tie it up
⛏️ So do the Nuggets
🏌️‍♂️ The PGA Championship favorite

Next, next, next man up

The New York Knicks’ run of close, intense playoff games came to a screeching halt Sunday when they got smoked by the Indiana Pacers, 121–89.

All of their previous nine games this postseason had been decided by 11 points or fewer. Five of them were decided by five points or fewer, including Friday’s 111–106 loss to Indiana in Game 3. The series is now tied at two games apiece as it shifts back to New York for Game 5 on Tuesday.

The issue for the Knicks is obvious: They’re just running out of bodies. Three of the eight players who saw the floor in Game 1 of their series against the Philadelphia 76ers are now injured, and the problem is especially acute because it disproportionately affects the Knicks’ frontcourt. Center Mitchell Robinson and forward Bojan Bogdanović have been ruled out for the rest of the playoffs and forward OG Anunoby is dealing with a hamstring strain with no timeline for his return.

Most troubling, though, is the injury to Jalen Brunson, who hurt his foot in the first quarter of Game 2. While Brunson was able to return in the second half of that game (he played all 24 minutes after halftime, in fact) and lead the Knicks to victory, he still doesn’t appear to be operating at 100%. He had 18 points on 6-of-17 shooting (0-for-5 from three) in Game 4.

The injuries have forced coach Tom Thibodeau to reach further and further down his bench, elevating seldom-used reserves into key roles. Precious Achiuwa, who didn’t even play in four of the Knicks’ six games against the Sixers, has started each of the last two. Alec Burks didn’t play at all against Philadelphia. He scored a team-high 20 points in Game 4. Backup point guard Miles “Deuce” McBride took 14 shots combined in the first three games of the series but took 17 in Game 4. Even fourth-string center Jericho Sims has been pressed into action.

Most teams deal with injuries as the playoffs drag on. After a six-month regular season, some guys are bound to break down. The fact that it’s happening to the Knicks, though, will raise inevitable questions about whether the heavy workload Thibodeau asks his players to carry is to blame. But that’s something New York sports radio hosts can debate whenever the Knicks’ postseason run ends. For now, the question is how the Knicks can rebound to win this series.

It took a heroic effort from Donte DiVincenzo (35 points with seven three-pointers) to keep the short-handed Knicks close in Game 3, and it’ll probably take another two such performances from him for New York to win the series. With Anunoby out, the Knicks are seriously short on offensive options. DiVincenzo is certainly capable of having another hot shooting night like he did Friday, and Josh Hart can knock down a couple of three pointers, but that’s about it. Isaiah Hartenstein will score a few baskets inside, but averaged just 7.8 points per game this season. Burks and McBride are too inconsistent. Achiuwa is a non-factor offensively. The Knicks need someone to step up and be a reliable second option behind Brunson.

The other big concern for the Knicks is their defense. The injuries to Robinson and Anunoby leave New York severely undersized. Hartenstein is seven feet tall and an excellent defender, but Achiuwa is the only other playoff-quality big man available. That means that when either Hartenstein or Achiuwa are getting a rest, the Knicks are forced to play with four guards. That’s not going to cut it against a team with Myles Turner and Pascal Siakam.

The biggest thing the Knicks have going for them right now is home-court advantage. The atmosphere inside Madison Square Garden has been one of the highlights of this postseason. But unless something changes, Tuesday’s game at MSG could be the last.

Sep 30, 2023; Syracuse, New York, USA; ACC commissioner Jim Phillips greets Clemson head football coach Dabo Swinney.
Phillips (right) faces an uphill battle trying to keep the ACC intact. / Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

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Dan Gartland

DAN GARTLAND

Dan Gartland is the writer and editor of Sports Illustrated’s flagship daily newsletter, SI:AM, covering everything an educated sports fan needs to know. Previously published on Deadspin and Slate, Dan also is a former Sports Jeopardy! champion (Season 1, Episode 5).