Pacers suffer late-game errors — some self-inflicted — in Game 1 loss against Knicks

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NEW YORK — When it was finished, Rick Carlisle retreated to the Indiana Pacers locker room and watched it all over. The last four minutes of Game 1, painful as they were, needed to be seen again.

They were a rough sight for the Pacers the first time. A lead slipped away. A number of careless errors. The catastrophe of a final minute. The questionable calls from officials that peppered a team already trying to avoid free-fall. All crunched together in such a short period.

But the Pacers coach took it all in again. Indiana lost Game 1 to the New York Knicks 121-117 at Madison Square Garden and with it, a golden opportunity to grab control of the series, withstanding a faulty performance from All-Star Tyrese Haliburton and an onslaught of unfavorable calls over the last 52 seconds.

The Pacers tried their best to avoid shifting blame from themselves and onto the officials after the game. They had their merits. Indiana may have played a sloppy final stanza, but it was done no favors by a slew of calls: an incorrect kicked-ball violation on Aaron Nesmith with 52 seconds left; an illegal screen by Myles Turner with 12.7 seconds remaining that floored Donte DiVincenzo and stood strong after a replay review; a foul on Andrew Nembhard before a single tick went off the clock and the Knicks could inbound the ball. That last one all but iced the game as Jalen Brunson made a free throw and the Knicks retained possession.

“I think it’s best when the players decide the outcome of the game,” Turner said. “I think it’s unfortunate that it happened. We reviewed it; they still called it an illegal screen. But it’s the playoffs, man. I feel like DiVincenzo did a good job of selling it. For the most part you can’t leave the game to be decided by the refs. So we have to take accountability as well. Of course it’s right after the game, I’m a little fresh in my emotions about it, but we know, at the end of the day, we can’t get to that position.

“The Last Two Minute report, we’re all looking forward to that coming out. I think there was two controversial calls. We had to use our challenge on one call on Tyrese. And then the kickball by Aaron Nesmith that was not a kickball — you can clearly see it on the replay.”

The harried final minute overshadowed a scintillating game Haliburton struggled, scoring just six points on six shots as he played through a back injury, so the Pacers looked for a jolt elsewhere. Pascal Siakam had 19 points, and T.J. McConnell came off the bench for 18. Turner had 23 points and provided vital rim protection. After toppling the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round and benefiting from injuries to Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard, the Pacers seemed primed to upset the Knicks too.

This was supposed to be a clash of two disparate styles, the fun-and-fast Pacers and the deliberate-and-physical Knicks. Instead, Indiana led throughout the first half by turning the matchup on its head and beating New York at its own game. The Pacers dominated the boards, matched the Knicks’ pugnacity and bullied them around at times. It was good enough for a six-point halftime lead.

Even as the Knicks rebounded to form in the second half, the Pacers kept pace. The teams exchanged leads late in the fourth quarter and entered the final minute tied. Then it all went haywire for Indiana.

Nesmith was called for that kickball, negating what was about to lead to a Knicks turnover and an opportunity in the open court. Instead, officials said the ball hit Nesmith’s leg. After the game, crew chief Zach Zarba told a pool reporter the call had been wrong and the ball hit Nesmith’s right hand. DiVincenzo hit a 3 on the ensuing possession to give New York a 118-115 lead that Indiana could not overcome.

After the game, even with the knowledge in hand that Zarba had admitted an error, McConnell could not say the right call may have swung the night.

“I’m not sure,” he said. “There were plays that we could have made that it doesn’t even come down to that. Unfortunate, but we got to move on and fix things that we didn’t do well.”

With the Knicks up 118-117, Brunson lost the ball out of bounds near his own basket with 22.1 seconds left while trying to dribble up-court against Nembhard’s pressing defense. The Knicks challenged, and it was overturned.

With Indiana still down by one on the next possession, Turner was called for the offensive foul trying to screen for Haliburton just above the 3-point line. The Pacers reviewed it but saw the call upheld. That cost Indiana its last timeout.

“I don’t want to talk about the officiating,” Carlisle said. “We’re not expecting to get calls in here. It would be nice if they laid off that one, but they didn’t. That’s just the way it goes. We challenged it. They reviewed. They got a bunch of people in New Jersey who agreed with them, so that’s just the way it goes. We gotta learn from that too. That’s a timing play. Both guys are involved. We’ll have to execute that better next time.”

As the Knicks tried to inbound the ball from center court, Nembhard was called for a foul before any pass after he slipped his right hand around Brunson’s torso. That sent Brunson to the free-throw line and allowed the Knicks to keep possession. There was little Indiana could do after that.

The cacophony of errors crested into a difficult defeat. The Pacers had played like the better team for so much of the night, even with Haliburton lagging. They came into MSG and pushed around the Knicks for long stretches. But they had not steeled themselves for the recrimination to come. Josh Hart played all 48 minutes and launched himself across the court like a torpedo at times, scoring 24 points and grabbed 13 rebounds. Brunson scored 43 points and served as a ballast.

The Pacers had no such anchor late in the game. Now, they’ll have to adjust to the rigors of what will surely be a brutally tough series. The Knicks leave opponents battered and blue; the Philadelphia 76ers can tell tales from home. The Pacers were able to undercut them for a half and will need to find a way to replicate it again, pushing the short-handed Knicks with their nine-deep rotation and a preference to play fast and try to punish a foe short on depth. It worked for a while Monday, before it all came apart.

It was an education for a young team still new to such experiences. Siakam won a title with the Toronto Raptors and McConnell had logged a few playoff games in years prior, but this is the first postseason run for the core of Indiana’s roster. Haliburton is making his maiden run through the playoffs. The first-round win over the Bucks was the first playoff series Turner had won in his nine-year career.

“There’s so many events in an NBA game,” Carlisle said. “They’re always a sharp focus on the last minute, but there were things that happened with five or six minutes left that really hurt us. We had one play where one of our guys took a wild run to try to gamble and steal the ball, and it turned into a four-point play for them. I think we had a five-point lead at the time, and so, it’s not just the last minute or two. It’s a whole game. The whole fourth quarter. So this is a great experience for our guys. It comes at a cost. It’s so fun. But we’re gonna have to learn some things for Game 2.”

(Photo of Rick Carlisle: Sarah Stier / Getty Images)

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