Jalen Brunson returned to top form on Tuesday as the New York Knicks dominated the Indiana Pacers 121-91 to take a 3-2 lead in their Eastern Conference semi-final Game 5.

A win on Friday night in Indianapolis will see the Knicks advance to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time in 24 years.

After losing Game 4 by 32 points, Brunson piling up 44 points with seven assists and four rebounds was an emphatic response from the Knicks.

“He’s willing to share everything with his teammates, and to me, that is the best part of him,” said Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau.

“His play is spectacular, but who he is as a teammate, as a leader and clutch shooter consistently comes through for us.”

The Knicks destroyed Indiana on the boards, with Isaiah Hartenstein leading the way with 17 rebounds (12 offensive) while Josh Hart had 11 rebounds (nine defensive).

Brunson’s impact had been limited in the past to two games in the series, with concerns that his heavy workload and a foot injury may have slowed him down.

But there were no signs of fatigue as he reached the 40 mark for the fifth time this post-season.

Brunson, who had only 18 points in Sunday’s loss, shot 18 for 35 and put up 28 points in the first half, a playoff record for the Knicks.

It was his seven straight points, including a three-pointer to open up a 20-point lead at 106-86, that made sure of the victory.

“I just love that there is never any excuse-making from him. He’s never talking about injuries,” said Thibodeau.

“A lot of times when you hear people talking about their injuries, a lot of it is excuse-making and you never get that from him.”

The Pacers got off to a strong start and led 25-20 before the Knicks put together an 11-0 run to end the first quarter up 38-32. By halftime, the Knicks had built a 69-54 lead and were in no mood to let it slip.

Thibodeau said he expected this response to the blowout defeat of his team.

“All through the year, they’ve shown that that’s who they are. We still need one more win, so we can’t be too excited about it,” he said.

Pascal Siakam led Indiana with 22 points.

‘Still desperate’ 

In the Western Conference, the Denver Nuggets made three straight wins in their semifinal with the Minnesota Timberwolves, with Nikola Jokic leading the defending champions with 40 points.

Having trailed 2-0 in the series, Denver are now just one win away from a return to the Western Conference finals.

Jokic was presented with his Most Valuable Player of the year award (the third of his career) before the game, then quickly provided another reminder of his value.

Denver led 50-44 at halftime, with Jokic scoring 19 of their points. Then, after the Wolves went on an 11-3 run early in the third quarter, Jokic scored another 16 to extend the Nuggets’ lead to 88-74.

Denver were able to contain Anthony Edwards, with the Timberwolves star limited to 18 points on 5-of-15 shooting.

The 22-year-old had scored 44 points in Sunday’s Game Four loss.

But after the shock of losing the opening two games of the series, Jokic knows a tough test awaits him on Thursday in Minnesota.

“Our back is still against the wall and we don’t want to quit. We are still desperate, and we still want a win, and we are going to Minnesota to get one,” he said.

Denver head coach Michael Malone was pleased with the way his team neutralized Edwards.

“We knew we had to do something different with Anthony Edwards, he is just a one-man wrecking crew,” said Nuggets head coach Michael Malone.

“We trapped him, we double-teamed him, moved around him, and that takes a lot of effort and our guys committed to it and that was a big part of the win,” he said.

Pierre Daccache, with AFP

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