New York Knicks' path toward conference finals suffers another crushing blow

The New York Knicks now have a tall task if they want to punch their ticket to the Eastern Conference Finals.
New York Knicks v Indiana Pacers - Game Four
New York Knicks v Indiana Pacers - Game Four / Dylan Buell/GettyImages

The New York Knicks face a tall order if they plan on punching their ticket to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2000.

In Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, the New York Knicks were on the verge of taking a 3-0 series lead over the Indiana Pacers. With less than 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter of Game 3, the Knicks held a nine-point lead. However, the rest of the way, the Pacers would go on to outscore the Knicks by 14 points to win their first game of the series.

It seems as if that fourth-quarter performance carried over into Game 4 as the Pacers throttled the Knicks to tie the series at 2-2. Now, heading into Game 5, with the series heading back to Madison Square Garden, all the pressure has shifted back to the shoulders of the Knicks. And even though they still maintain homecourt advantage in the series, it's going to be everything but smooth sailing for New York.

Not only do they have to battle against the momentum that the Pacers may have built over the past two games but it seems they'll also have to overcome the expected absence of OG Anunoby (once again) in Game 5, and perhaps for the rest of this series.

Anunoby is still considered unlikely to return for Game 5 and when asked Sunday (before Game 4) about where he was in his rehab process, Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau admitted that Anunoby hadn't done much, if any, on-court stuff and that he was doing "pool" work.

Can the New York Knicks beat the Indiana Pacers without OG Anunoby?

With the way the Knicks looked down the stretch in Game 3 and overall in Game 4, you can't help but wonder if there's even a scenario where New York can outlast Indiana in this series without Anunoby. In the NBA Playoffs, the Knicks are now 0-2 without him on the floor. Overall this season, the Knicks are 26-5 when Anunoby plays. They're 13-16 when he doesn't.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand just how important Anunoby has become for the Knicks this season. Even more so considering New York has also been trying to survive without Julius Randle and, now, Mitchell Robinson.

It may not be reasonable to expect the Knicks to win this series without three of their key contributors. Especially with a banged-up Jalen Brunson, who has looked a bit more human each of the past two games.

Game 5 aside, if Anunoby isn't able to return at any point in this series, it could very much spell the end of this miracle playoff ride for New York.

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