NBA

Hart highlights Madison Square Garden factor as Knicks battle Bucks for second seed

By Sports Desk April 13, 2024

The New York Knicks are under no illusions as to the importance of securing home-court advantage for the Eastern Conference playoffs, with Friday's win over the Brooklyn Nets keeping them in the hunt for the second seed.

The Knicks drew level with the Milwaukee Bucks at 49-32 with their 111-107 win at Madison Square Garden, boosting their chances of playing at the iconic venue through the postseason.

Jalen Brunson put up 30 points and added 11 assists as the Knicks made it four straight victories, with Josh Hart adding 16 and Mitchell Robinson tacking on 15.

The result saw New York secure a top-four seed, with the Bucks' subsequent 125-107 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder keeping their chances of finishing second in the East alive.

With the Bucks possessing the head-to-head tiebreaker, the Knicks must beat the Chicago Bulls in their season finale on Sunday and hope Milwaukee lose on the road against the Orlando Magic. If both teams lose, the Cleveland Cavaliers could yet usurp them.

Asked about the importance of playing at home, Hart said: "I heard the lights are really bright at MSG during that time, so it's really big for us."

Coach Tom Thibodeau, though, said the team cannot control anything other than their own results, saying: "We want to go through the finish line so that's the way we're looking at it. We want to improve and play our best."

With Giannis Antetokounmpo sidelined by a left calf injury and Damian Lillard missing out due to pain in his left adductor, the short-handed Bucks let the Knicks into the race with their loss at Paycom Center.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had 23 points and Chet Holmgren added 22 as the Thunder eased to victory, establishing a 17-point halftime lead which they never looked likely to surrender.

Asked about Milwaukee's failure to wrap up second place, Bucks coach Doc Rivers said: "I don't have much of a reaction. We've got to run to the finish line.

"The good news is, no matter what, we'll be at home for game one. That we do know."

That result was also an important one in the race to top the Western Conference, with the Thunder now locked in a three-way tie with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Denver Nuggets.

It's in Oklahoma City's hands going into their season finale against the Dallas Mavericks, with Mark Daigneault's team edging the three-way tiebreaker.

"I think the big exponential jumps come from small incremental steps," Daigneault said after Friday's game. "I talk all the time about stacking and we really are trying to live that out. 

"We just try to have a good day in the day that's in front of us, have a good possession in the possession that's in front of us, a good game in the game that's in front of us and just be very present in the process of improving and competing."

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    Michael Malone reflects on a hard end to the season after the Minnesota Timberwolves pulled off a historic comeback to beat the Denver Nuggets.

    The Nuggets let a 20-point lead slip in the third quarter at home to lose 98-90 in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals as the Timberwolves denied them a chance at a second straight league title.

    Minnesota trailed 53-38 at half-time – the largest deficit a Game 7 winner has overcome in NBA post-season history.

    Asked what went wrong in the second half, Malone did not have too many answers.

    "That's what's hard," Malone said. "F*** being up 20. Season's over. It's hard."

    "This is just a momentary delay. It's a failure, it's not fatal. We'll be back.

    "The better team won, so I'm taking nothing away from Minnesota ... but mentally, emotionally, physically, I think guys are gassed. They're dead tired.

    "They gave me everything I could ever ask for, and that's why as much as this hurts, I'll walk out of this building tonight with my head held very high."

    Denver dropped the first two games of the series at home but won the next three to get themselves back on track to challenge for a repeat NBA title.

    Jamal Murray scored 35 points for the Nuggets, while Nikola Jokic added 34, but the former thinks the team were just lacking an edge at the end of the game.

    "Just mentally and physically, conjuring up the energy to fight like you're being hunted," Murray said. "I think that's the emotion.

    "When you're the hunter, you have so much more motivation and you grasp on to anything to prove everybody wrong and you have a constant chip on your shoulder.

    "I don't know. I feel like we should have won tonight. That's the tough part. They beat us, but we had so many great opportunities, including myself, so it's just tough, man."

  • NBA: Wolves oust Nuggets, Pacers take out Knicks NBA: Wolves oust Nuggets, Pacers take out Knicks

    The Denver Nuggets will not be a repeat NBA champion, thanks to a historic comeback by the Minnesota Timberwolves.

    Minnesota rallied from a 20-point second-half deficit to come through with a shocking 98-90 road victory in Sunday's Game 7 of a Western Conference semifinal to deny Denver a chance at a second straight league title.

    Karl-Anthony Towns and Jaden McDaniels each scored 23 points, while Anthony Edwards recovered from a dismal first half to put up 16 points as the third-seeded Timberwolves advanced to the conference finals for the first time since 2004. Minnesota will host the fifth-seeded Dallas Mavericks, who ousted the No. 1 seed Oklahoma City Thunder in six games, in Game 1 on Wednesday.

    The Timberwolves' 15-point half-time deficit was the largest a Game 7 winner has overcome in NBA post-season history.

    Minnesota trailed 53-38 at half-time and fell further behind when the second-seeded Nuggets scored the first five points of the third quarter, then began finding its stride to reverse momentum.

    The Timberwolves got back into it via a 15-1 run, capped by 3-pointers from McDaniels and Mike Conley, to close the gap to 59-53 midway through the third. Edwards, who had just four points on 1-of-7 shooting through two quarters, later closed out the period with a 3-pointer to cut Denver's lead to 67-66 entering the fourth.

    Conley's 3-pointer with 9:26 left to play put Minnesota ahead for good at 75-72, and the Timberwolves pulled away from there behind a defence that held the Nuggets to 37 points and under 36 per cent shooting in the second half.

    Minnesota put the game away with a late 7-0 run Edwards capped with a 3-pointer off a Denver turnover that extended its advantage to 92-82 with three minutes left.

    Jamal Murray led Denver with 35 points, though 24 of those came in the first half and the star guard was 4 of 12 from 3-point range on the night.

    League MVP Nikola Jokić amassed 34 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists while accounting for 14 of the Nuggets' 23 points in the fourth quarter. 

     Pacers set NBA play-off shooting record to eliminate Knicks in Game 7

    The Indiana Pacers rose to the occasion in Game 7, and rode a shooting performance for the ages in advancing to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time in a decade.

    The New York Knicks couldn’t keep up with the Pacers’ scorching shooting and couldn’t recover after losing their best player.

    The Pacers shot an NBA playoff-record 67.1 per cent from the floor in Sunday’s 130-109 win at Madison Square Garden to eliminate the Knicks.

    Tyrese Haliburton led the way with 26 points, while Pascal Siakam and Andrew Nembhard each scored 20 for Indiana, which advanced to face the top-seeded Boston Celtics on Tuesday.

    The sixth-seeded Pacers, who had lost Games 1, 2 and 5 at Madison Square Garden, are in the East finals for the first time since 2014, when they lost to the Miami Heat.

    Trying to reach the conference finals for the first time since 2000, the Knicks played the final quarter without Jalen Brunson after he suffered a fractured left hand.

    Brunson had 17 points on 6-of-17 shooting and nine assists before exiting after averaging 31.8 points and 5.7 assists in the first six games of the series.

    Donte DiVincenzo tried to carry New York’s offence, finishing with a play-off career-high 39 points while making 9-of-15 3-pointers, but the Pacers’ hot shooting made it virtually impossible for the Knicks to stay close.

    Indiana shot a blistering 76.2 per cent in the first quarter, connecting on 16 of 21 shots – including 7 of 9 from 3-point range – to take a 39-27 lead after 12 minutes.

    Haliburton led the early onslaught, draining four 3-pointers and scoring 14 points in the opening period, while Siakam made his first five shots and had 11 first-quarter points.

    The torrid shooting continued into the second quarter, as the Pacers made 26 of their first 32 shots (81.3 per cent), and ended up shooting 76.3 per cent in the first half – the best by any team in the playoffs since 1997, when the NBA began tracking play-by-play for all four quarters.

    After taking a 70-55 lead into half-time, the Pacers missed four of their first five shots of the third quarter and the Knicks were able to cut the deficit to six.

    Indiana, however, responded with a 20-7 run to regain control and increase its lead to 93-74 late in the period. The Pacers took a 101-84 advantage into the fourth. 

    Brunson’s broken hand was the latest injury setback for the Knicks, who were without Julius Randle (right shoulder), Mitchell Robinson (left ankle) and Bojan Bogdanovic (left foot).

    OG Anunoby returned to the starting lineup after missing the last four games, but played just five minutes before aggravating his strained left hamstring and sat out the rest of the game.

    By failing to close out the Pacers, it’s now been 24 seasons without an appearance in the conference finals for the Knicks – the third-longest active drought in the NBA behind the Washington Wizards (45) and Charlotte Hornets (34).

  • Knicks star Brunson fractures hand in Game 7 loss to Pacers Knicks star Brunson fractures hand in Game 7 loss to Pacers

    Jalen Brunson's Game 7 ended with a fractured left hand.

    Shortly later, the New York Knicks' season ended.

    Brunson sustained a broken left hand and sat out the fourth quarter in the Knicks' 130-109 loss to the Indiana Pacers on Sunday.

    With the win, the Pacers reached the Eastern Conference finals, where they'll face the top-seeded Boston Celtics.

    Brunson, who had averaged 31.8 points and 5.7 assists in the first six games of the series against Indiana, had 17 points on 6-of-17 shooting and nine assists before exiting.

    Instrumental to New York's success in 2023-24, Brunson finished fifth in NBA MVP voting during the regular season after averaging 28.7 points, 6.7 assists and 3.6 rebounds.

     

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