Season-worst rebounding effort dooms Indiana Pacers in key Game 5 vs New York Knicks

The Pacers dropped Game 5 on Tuesday night
May 14, 2024; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks center Isaiah Hartenstein (55) rebounds versus Indiana Pacers forward Obi Toppin.
May 14, 2024; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks center Isaiah Hartenstein (55) rebounds versus Indiana Pacers forward Obi Toppin. / Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

NEW YORK — The Indiana Pacers knew the New York Knicks would be physical. They expected hard play. The Pacers discussed the clash in styles before their ongoing second-round series and knew they would need to play their way to win the best-of-seven set.

"It's no secret how hard they play. It's no secret how hard everybody crashes the glass," Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton said over a week ago. Indiana was hit hard by New York early in the series but took it in stride and stayed competitive, keeping up in many ways through four games.

In Game 5, that all changed. In the first four battles of the series, the Pacers grabbed 160 rebounds while the Knicks snagged 168. Tuesday night, New York pulled in 53 boards while Indiana had just 29. The Knicks dominated the glass, one of their calling cards, and it changed the game.

"We knew in this series that it's not really about our offense...it's about the hustle plays,

offensive rebounds, fifty-fifty balls and controlling turnovers. They beat us to a lot of those balls tonight and that contributed to the outcome of the game," Pacers center Myles Turner said after Game 5. He later admitted that he felt like he didn't do his job on the glass in the battle.

The Pacers grabbed 24 defensive rebounds and five offensive rebounds. The Knicks, meanwhile, had 20 offensive boards alone. They had 33 on the defensive end. On both ends of the floor, the hosts cleaned up every miss.

It allowed them to control the game. New York had possession of the ball far more often than their opponent, and it let them control the tempo. Their possessions were long, and they often ended with points. Indiana's possessions were short and almost always featured just one shot attempt. It was a losing recipe.

"They killed us on the glass better than they probably have in any game all series. We just didn't match that intensity level all night," Haliburton said.

Physical play is daunting and tough to match. The Pacers found a way to do it earlier in the series, but they never hit back on Tuesday. Every time the Knicks battled for a rebound or a loose ball, they came away with it. It was a one-sided effort war.

Those extra possessions added up fast. Indiana shot 43.1% to the Knicks 46.5%, a manageable difference. The visitors were over 10% better from long range and made more free throws. In general, the efficiency battle was balanced in a way that suggested the Pacers could keep up.

Instead, they lost by 30. The blue and gold took a seven-point lead late in the first quarter and were absolutely crushed the rest of the way — they nearly were outscored by a point per minute from that point on.

The possession battle was everything. Not only did New York have 24 more rebounds, but they were much more poised when it came to turnovers. The Knicks took care of the ball and coughed it up just nine times. The Pacers had 18 turnovers, by far their most in a single playoff game so far in 2024.

Combined, those two stats gave Indiana no chance to win. Even in a situation that featured relatively even efficiency numbers, the game was lopsided. That's because New York attempted a whopping 29 more shots than Indiana. They made 47 field goals while Indiana knocked down just 31.

That's a recipe for disaster. The Pacers were scrambling on defense often — sometimes due to miscommunications and other times due to their pressure on Knicks star Jalen Brunson — and it's hard to properly box out in those situations. But Indiana never found their stride doing so throughout the night, and it cost them.

"It was box outs. For sure," Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle said of his team's struggles on the glass. "It's just the cold-blooded desire to go get the ball. To make contact with somebody and go get the ball. That's what it is, and we did not do it."

It created an insurmountable edge for the Knicks. The Pacers 72 shot attempts were the fewest they took in one outing during 2023-24, including the regular season. Their previous low was 78, and their opponent had just 88 shots that night.

On the flip side, they only let their opponents shoot over 100 times on three occasions during the regular season. In all three of those outings, the Pacers took 90+ shots themselves.

Even during Indiana's worst games in the possession battle, they were at least somewhat balanced. On Tuesday, they were not. It is almost impossible to overcome a 29-shot attempt deficit, but the Pacers dug themselves that hole with a poor game on the glass.

"We've just got to do a better job of limiting second chance opportunities. I think in the first half they shot fifteen more shots than us... How do you win a game when teams are doing that?" Haliburton wondered. "We turned the ball over at a high rate today which is something we haven't done all playoffs. We will watch the film and be ready to respond in Game 6."

That Game 6 will be on Friday night. Thanks to this Game 5 loss in which Indiana got embarrassed on the glass, it's do-or-die for the Pacers going forward. They trail 2-3 in the series and can't afford to get bullied again.


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Tony East

TONY EAST

Tony East is the Publisher of AllPacers. He has previously written for Forbes Sports, the West Indianapolis Community News, WTHR, and more while hosting the Locked On Pacers podcast.