How Pascal Siakam came up big as Pacers did the little things to force Game 7 against Knicks

INDIANAPOLIS — Considering the explicit language used in his media session following Thursday’s practice, it should come as no surprise that Indiana Pacers coach Rick Carlisle was quite blunt with his players when reviewing the film from the team’s 30-point Game 5 loss.

“Game 5 in New York was, I would have to say, our lowest aggression game of the entire playoffs,” Carlisle said following Game 6. “And so, we didn’t have a very fun-filled film session yesterday watching it, but you go through these ups and downs and young teams are going to grow.”

Backup point guard T.J. McConnell confirmed the nature of that film session but also added that no one on that team thought Carlisle’s critiques were unfair.

“I mean, we deserved every bit of it,” McConnell said. “After watching the film, it was kind of disgusting to see. You thought it was bad, but then when you rewatch it, it’s even worse.”

On Friday, the Pacers played like a team that was embarrassed by their Game 5 effort. They dominated every aspect of the game that could be dictated by energy, hustle and will and stomped the Knicks 116-103 to force a winner-takes-all Game 7 in Madison Square Garden on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET.

From the start of Friday’s game, it was clear that the Pacers had internalized Carlisle’s words from Thursday’s film session and brought a far greater focus, tenacity and sense of desperation in Game 6.

Look at this box out from Pacers center Myles Turner:

Knicks center Isaiah Hartenstein grabbed 12 offensive rebounds by himself in Game 5. Turner was not going to allow that to happen again.

“His box outs tonight and his rebounding were pivotal,” McConnell said of Turner. “Because Hartenstein, he’s a dog on the glass and credit to Myles, he really came out and and changed the game in that aspect.”

In Game 6, largely because of Turner’s effort, Hartenstein only grabbed three offensive rebounds. In fact, the Pacers grabbed one more offensive rebound (14) than the Knicks and 12 more total rebounds. After watching the Knicks repeatedly beat them to rebounds and loose balls in Game 5, the Pacers owned those spaces in Game 6.

One of the ugliest sequences of Game 5, which we highlighted at The Athletic, was a Hartenstein tip-out that Donte DiVincenzo corralled in front of three Pacers and then took to the rim, only to have his shot blocked and then rebounded by Precious Achiuwa for an easy lay-up.

In Game 6, rookie wing Ben Sheppard beat DiVincenzo to the punch. Just barely, but Sheppard got just enough of the loose ball to create a breakaway dunk for Obi Toppin:

Repeatedly on Friday, in the moments where grit and will determined a winner, the Pacers came out on top, a significant change from the team’s Game 5 performance that left their head coach disgusted. It wasn’t just effort plays; the Pacers also executed better in the half court and much of that had to do with their midseason acquisition, Pascal Siakam.

In Game 5, the Knicks stuck 6-foot-4 wing Josh Hart on Siakam and it worked. The 6-foot-10 forward never made the Knicks pay for defending him with a much smaller player. That was not the case as the Pacers blew the game open in the second quarter behind a dominant stretch from Siakam.

The Knicks took a 37-35 lead on a Miles McBride bucket with 8:41 left in the second quarter and then the Pacers rattled off a 26-11 run to take control of the game with Siakam serving as the centerpiece of the Pacers’ offensive attack. Hart was clearly paying through serious physical discomfort, but that doesn’t diminish the work Siakam did at the start of every Pacers possessions during that stretch.

As the Pacers pulled away in the second quarter, Siakam found Hart early in possessions and established strong post position, which allowed the Pacers to impose their will with their size advantage and consistently score in a half-court setting.

“If we can rebound and get out and run, that allows us to get our early seals,” Tyrese Haliburton said after putting up 15 points, six rebounds and nine assists in the win. “We’re really being on our bigs more to get on the rim as much as they can, just to have that presence and then once we’re on the rim, we can start to pull them out and shoot the three well, which we typically do. So I think that those guys did a great job, Pascal setting the tone.”



Haliburton always wanted pressure, now he’ll finally get it in Game 7

For Siakam though, it wasn’t just getting early post position and getting an easy dunk. Hart works much too hard for anyone to get easy buckets. Throughout the series, Hart has been able to poke away Siakam’s dribble or strip the ball out of Siakam’s hands as he went up for a shot attempt, so the Pacers’ 30-year-old forward needed to show real patience and skill to get position and then work into the spots where he could score.

After scoring eight points on four shots during the run, Siakam showed off his patience and floor awareness when he established great post position, felt help defenders surrounding him and delivered an assist to Turner (17 points, eight rebounds) for one of the game’s most emphatic finishes.


“I think his experience, his poise has helped a lot, along with our coaching staff,” Haliburton said. “He was huge for us, getting a lot of early seals, helping to rebound the ball. I thought he just played one of his better overall games in a Pacers uniform and what a great time to do it.

But while it might have felt like the second quarter run led by Siakam could be enough, the Pacers closed the first half and opened the second poorly. A 9-0 run from the Knicks during that stretch shrunk the Pacers’ lead to five points only 38 seconds into the third quarter and forced Carlisle to take a timeout.

“I didn’t have to say much,” Carlisle said of the timeout. “The guys in the huddle came together and they said, we gotta make a stand and we gotta go on a run here. And I think we hit a couple 3s and we got things back to where we needed to get them. So, that was an important point of the game.”

After creating a 3-pointer out of nothing on the play immediately following the timeout, the Pacers were reminded of how they needed to play by the starter who scored the fewest points in Game 6’s winning effort.

For 16 seconds, Aaron Nesmith stayed in front of Knicks All-Star guard Jalen Brunson before he ultimately forced Brunson to pick up his dribble and late help from Haliburton forced a turnover. Then, on the next offensive possession, Nesmith managed to make one of the biggest plays of the game without registering a single stat in the box score.

Turner was credited with the offensive rebound roughly 50 feet away from the rim and Siakam earned the assist, but that play was created by Nesmith displaying the grit and determination his team needed at that moment and to come out with a win.

“We had to figure out what we were going to do,” Haliburton said of the Pacers’ run to answer their initial struggles to start the second half. “We made some shots. Double A (Nesmith) had a big tip-out that led to a 3 for me. I think just figuring out how we can be better and just maintain a sense of urgency and not panicking, but I think urgency over panicking, those are two very different things, and I think we gotta do that.”

If the Pacers stand any chance of taking Game 7, the message they shared during that timeout to open the third quarter will be extraordinarily important. No team in this series has won a road game. Last time the Pacers went to New York, they put together what they have described as an “embarrassing” and “disgusting” performance. The stage has only gotten bigger, so the Pacers will need to be ready to compete and do so at a high level while maintaining their composure.

“I expect probably the most unbelievable environment I’ve ever played an NBA game,” Haliburton said of a Game 7 at Madison Square Garden. “I think we’re all excited to go. There’s going to be a lot of energy in the building, from them and from us. And I think just weathering our emotions as much as we can.

“Don’t get too high. Don’t get too low. It’s going to be a game of runs. And, I mean, historically, me as a basketball watcher, game sevens are always so ugly. So I expect an ugly game and I expect whoever plays harder to win. And I’m excited to be a part of that.”

Winning on Sunday will require greater effort, focus and determination than the Pacers have shown during any game this postseason. Not because the Knicks are going to be at their healthiest or in their finest form, but rather because that is just what is required of every team that steps on the floor for a Game 7.

“It’s the ultimate game. And this is a great opportunity,” Carlisle said. “Other than Pascal, I don’t know if any of our guys have been in a Game 7, maybe James Johnson has. This team has been through a lot of new experiences over the last three and a half weeks and this will be another new one.

“So, we’ll do everything possible to get them ready, but in Game 7s, it comes down to compete level and how well you’re tied together.”

Everything the Pacers have been through over the last month has led to this. The challenge has never been greater and they will find out together if they are up to the task.

(Photo of Pascal Siakam: Nathaniel S. Butler / NBAE via Getty Images)

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