Pacers’ sizzling shooting leads them to Game 7 win, East finals berth

NEW YORK — The Pacers started Game 7 on an incredible shooting run and by the time they cooled off they were in position to cruise to a 130-109 win over the Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Sunday, advancing to the Eastern Conference finals to meet the Boston Celtics.

The next series begins Tuesday in Boston at 8 pm on ESPN.

Here are four observations.

The Pacers had the best shooting half in 25 years

The Pacers made their first four shots to start the game and once they finally missed on a Tyrese Haliburton 3-pointer, they didn’t miss again until the 4:30 mark in the first quarter, knocking down 10 of their first 11 field goal attempts.

The Pacers cooled off slightly after that, but not much. In the first quarter they made 16 of 21 field goals and 7 of 9 3-pointers for an absurd efficiency clip of 1.86 points per possession. They were 13 of 17 from the floor in the second half to go into halftime shooting 29 of 38 from the floor, a 76.3% clip that ranks as the best shooting first half in the last 25 years of playoff basketball surpassing the Spurs’ performance in Game 3 against the Heat in the 2014 NBA Finals according to ESPN Stats and Info.

The Pacers finished the half 8 of 12 from the 3-point mark and with 24 points in the paint. The Knicks couldn’t stop their drives and the Pacers drilled the open 3-pointers that their penetration created. They finished the half with 1.55 points per possession and a 70-55 lead. They didn’t cool much in the second half either, shooting 67.1% from the floor — an NBA playoff record — and posting 1.40 points per possession.

Tyrese Haliburton goes off in Game 7

In Sunday’s first quarter, Haliburton had his own sort of Reggie Miller-Spike Lee moment, jawing with a Knicks fan sitting on the front row at Madison Square Garden. That fan obviously doesn’t have Lee’s level of fame — it wasn’t obvious to anybody who he was and that section across from the benches is, obviously, celebrity row — but it seemed to get Haliburton energized and he turned that into one of his best performances in these playoffs.

In the first quarter alone, Haliburton scored 14 points on 5 of 7 shooting, drilling 4 of his 5 3-point attempts. Once the Knicks brought Miles McBride off the bench to guard him he found it a little bit more difficult to get space, but he still made shots when he was open and it was almost lights out from beyond the arc. He scored 26 points on 10 of 17 shooting, including 6 of 12 from 3-point range and also finished with six assists.

Aaron Nesmith finds his offense

Aaron Nesmith has made a major impact for the Pacers this postseason, but it’s largely because of his defense. He’s taken on big assignments in both series and moving him on to Jalen Brunson was a game changer in this series. However, shooting the ball has been a struggle as he entered Sunday shooting 38.4% from the floor and 27.9% from 3-point range for the playoffs.

But on Sunday, Nesmith found his stroke just as everyone else on the Pacers seemed to, making all eight of his shots including two 3-pointers for 19 points. He played sturdy defense on Brunson again, helping hold him to 17 points on 6 of 17 shooting before he left the game with a fractured left hand.

Nesmith’s performance was part of an exceptional day for the Pacers’ role players both in the starting lineup and on the bench. Guard Andrew Nembhard scored 20 points on 8 of 10 shooting. Guard TJ McConnell scored 12 points on 6 of 7 shooting and dished out x assists and posted a +21.

Pascal Siakam attacks OG Anunoby early

The Knicks got some inspiration and a couple of big buckets early from former IU star OG Anunoby, who missed the last four games with a hamstring strain but pushed it to return for Game 7. However, the Pacers and particularly his former Raptors teammate Pascal Siakam He could clearly tell that, as well as Anunoby was shooting, he couldn’t move nearly well enough to defend anyone. So Siakam attacked him so frequently in the game’s opening minutes that the Knicks had to pull Anunoby and sit him the rest of the way.

Siakam made 4 of 4 shots in the 4 minutes and 41 seconds Anunoby was on the floor and kept attacking after that. He had 11 points in the first quarter alone. The Knicks put Isaiah Hartenstein on him and made it difficult for Siakam to score around the rim, but his mid-range jumper was on and he also hit two 3-pointers on three attempts, finishing with 20 points on 8 of 15 shooting.

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