Knicks crushed by Pacers in deflating Game 7 as playoff hopes come to gut-wrenching end

The circumstances were set for a heroic Knicks performance. The stuff of franchise lore.

Josh Hart and OG Anunboy both started despite “questionable” statuses, receiving massive ovations during the pregame lineup introductions.

The crowd was electric for the first Game 7 in nearly 30 years.

But then it was the Pacers who rose to the occasion, while the Knicks, depleted to the bones and sloppy, slinked away in their Sunday afternoon 130-109 elimination.

Jalen Brunson reacts during the Knicks’ Game 7 loss on Sunday. Charles Wenzelberg/NY Post

“Wasn’t in the cards for us,” Hart said.

Jalen Brunson’s tremendous season finished in the locker room with a fractured left hand, an injury sustained as he shot 6-for-17 over 29 minutes in a disappointing performance.

The point guard said he broke his shooting hand while swiping for a ball in the third quarter and connected with Tyrese Haliburton’s leg.

Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton reacts after hitting a 3-pointer against the Knicks in Game 7 on Sunday. Charles Wenzelberg/NY Post

He quickly bolted to the locker room, briefly re-emerged to try to check into the game, but then left the court for good.

In the end, not a single Knicks starter from the season opener in October was available to finish Game 7. They were either hurt (Brunson, Julius Randle, Mitchell Robinson) or traded (RJ Barrett).

Josh Hart is greeted by Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau as he fouls out during the fourth quarter of Game 7. Charles Wenzelberg/NY Post

Add in the physically compromised play of both Hart and Anunoby, and the Knicks were just overwhelmed.

“There’s only so much you can overcome,” Donte DiVincenzo said.

Still, Brunson refused to call the season a success — “Did we win a championship? No,” he said. And his play in the final two games was a sludge compared to the rest of his breakout 2023-24.

With the Knicks needing just one victory to advance to the franchise’s first conference finals since 2000, Brunson combined to shoot under 40 percent in Games 6 and 7.

Only DiVincenzo (39 points) and Alec Burks (26 points) kept the Knicks from getting blown out at home.

The Pacers, meanwhile, poured on the offense while shooting 67 percent.

They got 26 points from Tyrese Haliburton, who was celebrating and talking smack all over the Garden court — particularly at a courtside Knicks fan who only seemed to stoke Haliburton’s enthusiasm. In the end, he outdueled Brunson.

Haliburton shot 10-for-17, including 6-for-12 from beyond the arc. Pascal Siakam added 20 points. The Pacers flexed their depth all series and pummeled the Knicks with it in the final two games.

Knicks assistant Rick Brunson speaks to his son Jalen during the Game 7 loss. Charles Wenzelberg/NY Post

Anunoby, who missed the previous four games with a strained hamstring, did his best Willis Reed impression after becoming a surprise addition to the starting lineup.

Clearly laboring and limping, Anunoby buried his two shot attempts — including a contested off-balance trey.

But he could barely move 10 days after straining his hamstring.

Anunoby’s defense was a problem and the forward was removed less than five minutes into the contest.

That was it for Anunoby. Five points in five minutes.

OG Anunoby goes to the Knicks’ bench in the first quarter on Sunday. Charles Wenzelberg/NY Post
Knicks center Isaiah Hartenstein #55 grabs his ankle during the first quarter. Charles Wenzelberg/NY Post

“Just the way he was moving. I didn’t think it was worth it,” Thibodeau said. “The lift from him hitting the shots, and then I just didn’t feel like he was moving well. It didn’t make sense.

“I didn’t think it was worth the risk. I didn’t wanna take a chance. I love OG. I talked to medical, and we didn’t know what it was going to be until he got out there. He gave us everything he had, and that’s all you can ask for.”

In the process, Anunoby probably shed some of the “soft” label that followed him from injury-plagued stints in Toronto.

But if his active status was an attempt to intimidate the Pacers or psyche out Rick Carlisle’s squad, it didn’t work.

Jalen Brunson reacts during the Knicks’ loss to the Pacers. Charles Wenzelberg/NY Post

The Pacers were on fire at the start.

Unbothered by the boisterous Garden crowd, they sank an outrageous 76 percent of their shots in the first half — including two-thirds of their 3-pointers — and led by as many as 22 points.

It represented the best shooting percentage for the first half of any team of the last 25 postseasons, according to ESPN.

Hart was more mobile than expected while playing with a strained abdomen sustained two days prior in Game 6.

But he couldn’t shoot in his 37 minutes, missing all four of his 3-point attempts before leaving the court to appreciative “Josh Hart” chants.

But the Knicks, like Hart, had nothing left for Game 7.

“[The Knicks fans] are amazing and I can’t really put into words what they mean to me, but they deserve much more than what we were able to do this playoff run,” Brunson said. “They deserve much more than that.”