Knicks’ Frontcourt Domination Key To Win vs. Pacers

Josh Hart, Precious Achiuwa, Isaiah Hartenstein, Knicks, NBA
Feb 1, 2024; New York, New York, USA; Indiana Pacers forward Jalen Smith (25) fights for a rebound against New York Knicks forward Precious Achiuwa (5) and guard Josh Hart (3) and center Isaiah Hartenstein (55) during the fourth quarter at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Knicks are the hottest team in the NBA, pushing their winning streak to nine games with a victory over the Indiana Pacers on Thursday Night. It was a hard-fought victory for the Knicks, who trailed for nearly the entire game and were down by as many as 15 points.

What made the 109-105 victory that much sweeter for the team was the fashion in which it was done. New York entered the game extremely short-handed at the forward spots and in the frontcourt. 

Their starting center coming into the season, Mitchell Robinson, has been sidelined since early December. All-Star power forward Julius Randle is sidelined for a few weeks with a separated shoulder. OG Anunoby has missed three straight games because of inflammation in his right elbow and Quentin Grimes joined them on the sidelines Thursday night.

That led to head coach Tom Thibodeau using an eight-man rotation against the fast-paced and offensive-minded Pacers. That rotation was cut to 6.5 in the second half, as Malachi Flynn only played minutes in the first two quarters and Jericho Sims saw limited action in the second half.

NBA NEWS & RUMORS: Precious Achiuwa, Isaiah Hartenstein, Josh Hart, New York Knicks Updates

It looked like the injuries would be too much to overcome early on as the Pacers scored 36 points in the first quarter. They scored only 22 in the second quarter but still held a seven-point lead at halftime because of the work they put in on the glass.

A normally dominant rebounding team, the teams were nearly even in the first half with the Knicks having a 26-25 edge. They were very undersized at points in the first half, as Flynn, Miles McBride, Donte DiVincenzo and Josh Hart shared the court at one point together. 

However, in the second half, the script was flipped and New York wore Indiana down. Slowing down the pace, the Knicks were able to climb back into the game. They began punishing the Pacers, as Thibodeau rode Precious Achiuwa and Isaiah Hartenstein in the second half.

The Knicks’ starting frontcourt both recorded double-doubles in the game. Achiuwa scored 12 points with 16 rebounds, including a career-high eight on the offensive glass. He added four steals and two blocks in a huge performance stepping into the lineup for Randle, playing a career-high 43 minutes.

Hartenstein, who has been working his way back from Achilles soreness, played 36 minutes as his restriction was lifted. He scored 12 points of his own with 19 rebounds and six assists. He and Achiuwa were fired up near the end of the game after Achiwua’s tip-in gave the Knicks a five-point lead with just over a minute to go.

The Knicks had a third player finish the game with double-digit rebounds, Josh Hart. The best rebounding guard in the NBA, who routinely plays out of position in the front court, pulled down 12 boards, three of which were offensive.

NBA NEWS & RUMORS: Precious Achiuwa, Isaiah Hartenstein, Josh Hart, New York Knicks Updates

Their effort on the glass is as big of a reason as any as to why the Knicks picked up the victory on Thursday. A lot of praise will be given to Jalen Brunson, and rightfully so, as he scored 40 points, overcoming a slow start and blow to the face late to ice the game away.

But his heroics wouldn’t have been possible without the work of Achiuwa, Hartenstein and Hart on the boards. They combined for 47 of the team’s 60 rebounds, as they ended up dominating the glass, having a +16 edge on Indiana.

Controlling the paint helped the Knicks overcome an ugly shooting night. Brunson shot 50 percent, going 15-of-30 from the field, but the rest of the team went 26-for-73. New York was also an abysmal 8-of-38 from 3-point range, as their effort on the glass proved to be the difference in the end.

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