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NEW YORK -- All season, the Indiana Pacers' opponents have tried to slow them down. It is "very fair," star guard Tyrese Haliburton told me, to say that every defensive strategy they've seen -- from switch everything to zone and denying Haliburton the ball -- has been an attempt to make them stagnate. Indiana is the fastest team in the league; at its best, its halfcourt offense simulates the chaos and confusion of a typical transition possession. And on the rare occasion when "we don't score a lot of points," it's because the Pacers' tempo isn't as fast as they'd like in the halfcourt.

"I think that's kind of a backwards way of thinking for people, but the way I look at it is, like, how fast you can get into ghost screens, making decisions very quickly, all those things can, I think, benefit our pace and they're all a part of it," Haliburton said. 

Haliburton said this 13 days ago at Madison Square Garden, before a single point had been scored in Indiana's seven-game series against the New York Knicks. Since then, with the exception of a Game 5 beatdown, the Pacers have not had much trouble scoring. 

Before they scored 141.3 points per 100 possessions in Sunday's Game 7 with a effective field goal percentage of 75.3%, they entered the deciding game with an offensive rating of 120.9 in the series, slightly higher than their regular-season mark (which was the second-most efficient in NBA history). Their problem was that, in their losses, New York had piled up points, too, and at times bullied them on the boards.

"We've just got to keep our emotions even-tempered, and really work at problem-solving our way through the game," Indiana coach Rick Carlisle said hours before his team advanced to the Eastern Conference finals with a 130-109 win on the road. "And we gotta rebound and get loose balls. I mean, that's been the story of the series."

That's the story from Indiana's perspective, anyway: Postgame, Carlisle said that his team "won this series with grit and guts and physical play, and pressing 94 feet."

From the Knicks' perspective, the fact that the Pacers outrebounded them and were often first to loose balls is nothing more than a footnote. The story in New York is that the best Knicks team in more than a decade broke down physically. 

OG Anunoby, who strained his hamstring in Game 2, and Josh Hart, who strained his abdomen in Game 6, were both in the starting lineup in Game 7, but Anunoby subbed out after less than five minutes and didn't return. "Just the way he was moving, I didn't want to risk it," New York coach Tom Thibodeau said. Hart logged 37 minutes, but missed all of his jumpers. And about halfway through the third quarter, Knicks star Jalen Brunson fractured his hand swiping at Haliburton to try to prevent a fast-break layup.

Initially, Brunson stayed in the game. He checked out for good with three minutes left in the third. 

"I thought I just jammed it, to be honest with you," Brunson said. "And I looked down and I knew something was wrong." 

By the time Brunson was done for the day -- and the year -- New York was down by 18 points. It fell behind by 22 in the first half, but cut the deficit to six a few minutes into the third. Three consecutive turnovers, however, including a five-second inbounds violation, allowed Indiana to quiet the crowd and regain control. "Our margin for error is really tight," Thibodeau said. The Knicks "had a small window to maybe crawl back into it," but, because they couldn't capitalize, the game flipped the other way.

Thibodeau said he was "disappointed in the sense that we're not going to play anymore," but he sounded just as proud of the team as he did after eliminating the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round.

"I thought guys gave everything they had, and that's all you can ask," Thibodeau said. "It was a battle all year, and there was nothing left to give at the end."

On the one hand, New York was close to going up 3-0 in the series before its offense fell flat in Indiana. On the other, the team has been running on fumes. Brunson and Donte DiVincenzo had career years in large part because they needed to give the Knicks more offensively after Julius Randle's season-ending injury in January. 

Isaiah Hartenstein broke out after Mitchell Robinson had his first of two ankle surgeries back in December. Bojan Bogdanovic, acquired at the trade deadline to give the team some extra firepower, had season-ending foot surgery during the Sixers series. "It was hit after hit," Thibodeau said. In the fourth quarter of Game 7, New York was running Alec Burks-Precious Achiuwa pick-and-rolls.

"A lot of teams, I think, would have folded," Thibodeau said. "They didn't." 

A victorious Haliburton, who scored 26 points on 10-for-17 shooting, including 6-for-12 from deep, left the Garden wearing a hoodie with an image of Reggie Miller with his hands around his neck, taunting Spike Lee in the playoffs 30 years ago. Next to Haliburton at the podium, center Myles Turner said Indiana's offensive performance was a testament to its coaching staff and its system, adding, "This is what we've been doing all season long, and we were able to show it on the biggest stage." 

In defeat, a downcast Brunson, who finished with 17 points on 6-for-17 shooting in 29 minutes, refused to call the Knicks' season a success, but said repeatedly that he loved how they competed.

"This team is special in a way that I can't really explain," Brunson said. "The way we just fought, the way we just didn't use excuses. We just kept finding ways, to the best of our abilities, and that was just our mindset. I just love the fact that we have that mindset."

DiVincenzo, who did his best to bail New York out of an unfortunate situation (39 points on 11-for-21 shooting, 9-for-15 from deep), said that it was "a funky year." The complexion of the roster changed when it acquired Anunoby, and injuries kept forcing New York to adjust and adapt. This was true until the very end, with its leader sidelined as the season came to a close.

"If I know him, that's going to drive him and fuel him to come back even better next year," DiVincenzo said. "Injuries are something that you just can't control in this game, but, mentally I don't know anybody stronger than him, so this is just a bump in the road for him. And for the whole team."