2024 NBA playoffs: New York, Indiana players focused on present

Knicks legends love New York's hot start (0:34)

John Starks, Larry Johnson and Latrell Sprewell are loving the Knicks' hot start in Game 6. (0:34)

The memories of the 1990s playoff battles between the New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers have been at the edges of the current Eastern Conference semifinal series for the past two weeks. Literally.

At Madison Square Garden, former Knicks John Starks and Patrick Ewing are courtside regulars, and their highlights in those epic seven-game series have been played on the videoboard at each game to maximize nostalgia. Former Pacers Dale Davis and Antonio Davis have waved to the crowd from their courtside seats in Indianapolis to remind fans of their victories in that era.

Reggie Miller was specifically brought in to call Game 2 for TNT, and legendary Knicks fan Spike Lee brought framed tabloid back pages from their famous interactions from those days.

It's all great fodder for fans and former players of a certain age.

In back-to-back seasons, 1994 and 1995, the Pacers and Knicks met in the playoffs, with both series going the full seven games. Each side won one. In 1994, the Knicks prevailed in the conference finals to advance to the NBA Finals for the first time in 21 years.

And in 2000, the Pacers beat New York in six games in the conference finals to make their lone Finals appearance.

But the current players? They're more interested in their own history than the grainy, pre-HD footage.

Only six active players on the Knicks and Pacers -- Alec Burks, Josh Hart, James Johnson, Doug McDermott, T.J. McConnell and Pascal Siakam -- were alive in 1995. None of them remembers Miller's eight points in nine seconds late in Game 1 of that series.

This year's Knicks and Pacers are much more focused on the opportunity at hand now, even if someday it might be them sitting courtside looking at highlights of the long past 2024 series that went seven games.

"For a lot of us, this is our first playoff experience, let alone first Game 7," said Pacers All-Star Tyrese Haliburton, who'd never competed in a playoff game prior to this season. "The Garden is an unbelievable environment, and the crowd will be rowdy. And we just haven't won there yet. So, we got to prove that we're able to do that."

Sunday's contest (3:30 p.m. ET on ABC) will be just the third Game 7 at MSG since 1974 and the first one since 1995, when the Pacers stunned the Knicks 97-95, as future Hall of Famers Ewing and Miller each scored 29 points but Ewing missed a potential game-tying layup at the buzzer.

As the Knicks regrouped following a 13-point loss Friday night in Indianapolis, they took solace in the home-court advantage they have. The Knicks are 5-1 at home this postseason, while the Pacers are 1-5 on the road. In NBA history, excluding the neutral-site games in the 2020 Orlando bubble, home teams are 110-35 (.759) in Game 7s.

"It's definitely something we fought for, to have home-court advantage for as long as we can throughout the playoffs," Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. "I'm just happy the team has the mindset we do. But it's not given just because it's at home. We have to go out there and play -- and they're going to be ready, and we're going to be ready, as well."

Three Pacers expected to get minutes -- Aaron Nesmith, Myles Turner and Siakam -- have Game 7 experience. For the Knicks, Jalen Brunson, Donte DiVincenzo and OG Anunoby previously have played a Game 7, but none came while with the Knicks.

Anunoby, who has not played since Game 1 due to a left hamstring strain, was upgraded from out to questionable on Saturday. He is expected to test the hamstring Sunday morning before making a decision.

"I expect both teams to have desperation," said Brunson, who went 1-1 in Game 7s when he was with the Dallas Mavericks. "You're not going to win just because you're at home. You have to put the work into it, and we have to play well."

Brunson has a habit of brushing off milestone moments by saying, "I'll think about it when I retire." This is another one of them, his first Game 7 as a Knick. He scored two points in 10 minutes in his first Game 7, a loss in 2021, then had 24 points on 11-of-19 shooting in a Game 7 blowout of the Phoenix Suns a year later.

This postseason, he is averaging 33.7 points, with a pair of 40-point games in this series, giving the Knicks a chance to close out at home for the first time since 1999. If they do, they'll advance to the conference finals for the first time since the Pacers beat them 24 years ago. So, if Brunson can lead New York to victory in his biggest game as a Knick yet, it automatically will go down in the annals.

It was just six months ago that Haliburton played what was then his biggest game as a Pacer, during the in-season tournament final. Last summer, he had gotten excited because the Pacers were scheduled for multiple games on national television this season. Coming into the campaign, including during his time with the Sacramento Kings from 2020 to 2022, Haliburton had played on national TV only once.

Despite this season's experience, Haliburton and the promising Pacers are still in new territory. Even though the winner will be a significant underdog versus the Boston Celtics in the next round, there's a palpable understanding about the stakes.

"I think that when you're a young, up-and-coming team, it's easy to be like, man, we're never on TV. People never get to see us play well," Haliburton said. "You got to earn it. And I think we're on our way to doing that. ... We got to prove that we deserve that spotlight."