The New York Knicks were on the cusp of making it to the Eastern Conference Finals for just the second time in the 21st century after they took a dominant Game 5 win in front of an ever-raucous Madison Square Garden crowd. They have kept on fighting, with Jalen Brunson playing a starring role, even though injuries have ravaged their depth. However, the Indiana Pacers' home court has been a fortress thus far in the 2024 NBA playoffs. In Game 6, the Pacers promptly protected their home ground by taking a dominant 116-103 victory to force a seventh and final game.

With the series going back to Madison Square Garden, there remains plenty of reasons for the Knicks to be optimistic about booking a trip to the ECF to face the Boston Celtics. But they will have to clean up their game for what will be their most pivotal contest of the 2023-24 season.

The Pacers adjusted well as they shored up a few of their weaknesses that showed up in Game 5. The Knicks will have to do the same. Again, it's important to note that one player alone cannot lose the game for the team, especially when the team lost in blowout fashion. But these are the parts of the game that the Knicks can do better in for Game 7, with some players playing a central role in making sure that they don't fall short in a similar manner.

The Knicks, uncharacteristically, get outworked by the Pacers

One of the hallmarks of a Tom Thibodeau-coached team is that they outwork their opponents night-in, night-out. (This is only true for teams that have his full buy-in, which he has with the 2023-24 Knicks.) His teams have punched above their weight class more often than not because of this.

Perhaps the best example of this, outside of the 2024 Knicks, is when Thibodeau coached the 2013 Chicago Bulls to the best of his abilities, even taking a game off of the eventual champion Miami Heat in the second round of the playoffs. That was a team that was missing Derrick Rose and Luol Deng, with the latter sustaining life-threatening complications from a spinal tap gone horribly wrong.

Nonetheless, the 2024 Knicks have stayed alive until this point because they have made it a point to outhustle their opponents, making it seem as though their opponents were playing against 10 men rather than just five. This was one of the Knicks' main win conditions in their 121-91 beatdown of Indiana in Game 5. They demolished the Pacers on the glass; they hauled in 20 more rebounds than the Pacers did, while grabbing 20 offensive boards compared to just five for Indiana.

As a result, the Knicks took 29 more shots than the Pacers did in Game 5, and it's always difficult to lose a game when the team wins the possession battle unless they cannot buy a bucket.

Meanwhile, in Game 6, the Knicks did not show the same energy on the glass. Credit goes to the Pacers for putting in a much more concerted effort to secure the boards, with Myles Turner being more diligent in boxing out against Isaiah Hartenstein, the Knicks' Game 5 unsung hero. New York was outrebounded, 47-35, with Indiana making sure that they put in the work on the defensive glass after this emerged as their biggest weakness the previous game.

In Game 7, the Knicks will have to feed off the energy of their crowd so they can utilize one of their roster's biggest strengths as they try to end the Pacers' season.

New York has some defensive troubles

The Pacers will get theirs on the offensive end, especially in front of their home crowd. But the Knicks made it far too easy for them on multiple occasions during their blowout Game 6 defeat. In fact, it was Josh Hart who did not look right from the get-go. He blew coverages early on, failing to find a relocating Tyrese Haliburton along the three-point line and he was also unaware of Pascal Siakam on the backline on one play leading to an easy layup.

That just set the tone for a lackluster defensive night from the Knicks. They allowed the Pacers to touch paint far too easily. Now, the Pacers deserve credit for keeping good spacing. But when even Myles Turner can carve up the defense with a marauding drive to the basket, then that's when you know the team is struggling on the defensive end.

And when the Knicks decided to pack the paint, the Pacers adjusted by utilizing Pascal Siakam along the short-roll area; Siakam thrived in Game 6, finishing with 25 points, seven boards, and five assists to lead the way for Indiana.

Overall, the Pacers got whatever they wanted on the offensive end all night long. They got to the paint seemingly at will, and they ended the night outscoring the Knicks by 24 in the shaded lane, 62-38. As a result, the Pacers shot 53.8 percent from the field, which then allowed them to outscore the Knicks comfortably even though their three-point shots weren't really falling for most of the night.

The paint battle will be one to watch on Sunday afternoon; in five of the six games in the series to this point, the team that scored more points in the paint won. Thus, it's imperative for the Knicks to secure the interior if they were to advance to the ECF.

Running out of gas?

Jalen Brunson, despite finishing with 31 points, did not have the best of nights. In fact, of his 31 points, 12 came in the fourth quarter when the Pacers basically had the game out of the Knicks' reach already. The Pacers hounded Brunson for most of the night with Aaron Nesmith, and Nesmith responded with perhaps his best defensive game of the season in terms of screen navigation and ability to stick with his man on the perimeter.

Meanwhile, Isaiah Hartenstein and Josh Hart, the Knicks' two hustle guys, did not look like their best selves on Friday. Hartenstein was thoroughly outplayed by Myles Turner and even Isaiah Jackson, and he was unable to protect the rim to the best of his ability. Meanwhile, Hart, the 2024 NBA playoffs' iron man, is showing that he might be human after all. In the third quarter, he asked to come out of the game, and then after the game, reports came out that Hart was dealing with abdominal soreness.

Is the heavy workload finally catching up to an injury-ravaged Knicks roster?