Brunson frightens MSG crowd, then sparks Game 2 comeback

The Indiana Pacers seemed poised to even up the series Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.

Then Jalen Brunson returned.

Brunson, after going down with an injury scare early, came back into the game and led the Knicks to a key 130-121 win over the Pacers in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference semifinals series. That gave the Knicks a 2-0 lead in the series as it heads back to Indianapolis.

“I’m just happy I [returned], to be honest with you,” Brunson said afterward on TNT. “We found a way. That’s it.”

The Pacers mounted a 17-point swing in the first half after the Knicks lost Brunson in the opening minutes, which nearly resulted in a perfect opportunity to steal a game on the road.

It appeared as if Brunson tweaked his right foot while on defense late in the first quarter. He took an awkward step while moving into the lane, and then he immediately called for a sub after the Pacers scored.

Brunson left the game after just eight minutes, and went back to the locker room. His father, Knicks assistant coach Rick Brunson, left the bench in the second quarter to go back to the locker room, too, though the team didn’t provide an update for quite some time. Eventually, midway through the second quarter, the Knicks said that Brunson was dealing with a sore right foot. He was initially questionable to return, but came back to start the second half to a huge standing ovation in Manhattan.

The Knicks were up by seven points when Brunson left the floor, though they entered halftime down by 10 points — which marked a massive 17-point swing for the Pacers. Pacers star Tyrese Haliburton had 22 points in the first half while shooting 7-of-12 from the field, which doubled his shot attempts from Game 1.

Brunson’s return seemed to make all the difference for the Knicks. They took the lead almost instantly in the second half, and came out of the gate on a 21-6 tear. The Knicks held Indiana to just 18 points in the third quarter, 10 of which came in the final four minutes, and took an eight-point lead into the final period — which completely flipped the game after halftime.

The Knicks lost O.G. Anunoby to a leg injury in the third quarter, however, after he pulled up awkwardly while driving to the rim. He was quickly ruled out with a left hamstring injury, and finished with 28 points and shot 10-of-19 from the field. It’s unclear how severe his injury is, or if he’ll be available for Game 3 on Friday night.

Though the Pacers opened the fourth quarter on a quick 6-0 burst, Brunson responded with a massive and-one layup to keep them up by multiple possessions.

The Knicks then used a 7-0 run, backed off a clutch 3-pointer from Donte DiVincenzo and then a perfect dump from him down to Precious Achiuwa to finally put the Pacers away late in the period. That allowed them to roll to the nine-point win, which gave them a two-game lead in the series.

Haliburton led the Pacers with 34 points, nine assists and six rebounds while shooting 7-of-11 from behind the arc. Andrew Nembhard added 15 points and Pascal Siakam finished with 14 points and eight rebounds. Pacers coach Rick Carlisle was ejected in the final minute, too, after arguing with officials over a double-dribble call that felt like it was frustration boiling over.

Brunson finished with 29 points, all but five of which came in the second half, and five assists while shooting 11-of-18 from the field. DiVincenzo added 28 points, and Josh Hart dropped 19 points and 15 rebounds.

Game 3 of the series is set for Friday night in Indianapolis. While there are plenty of questions surrounding the Knicks’ health, both with Brunson and Anunoby, the Knicks are in an incredible position to make their first Eastern Conference finals since 2000.

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