Pacers respond to Rick Carlisle's challenge, roll into Game 7

Pacers force a Game 7 with a dominant win over Knicks (1:00)

The Pacers send the series back to MSG with a commanding Game 6 win over the Knicks. (1:00)

INDIANAPOLIS -- When the Indiana Pacers fell behind 2-0 in their series against the New York Knicks, coach Rick Carlisle challenged the referees. When they faced elimination in Friday's Game 6, he directly challenged his players.

Carlisle tore into his team after their 30-point loss in Game 5 in New York, calling for the Pacers to improve their aggression, focus and technique. Then he put them through a tough film session Thursday reviewing time after time when the Knicks beat the Pacers to loose balls in the humbling blowout.

The veteran coach got a strong response from his young team, with the Pacers reversing nearly every facet in a 116-103 Game 6 victory that evened the series at 3-3 and set up a Game 7 on Sunday at Madison Square Garden.

After losing the rebound battle by a whopping 24 in Game 5, the Pacers won it by 12 in Game 6. After turning the ball over a crushing 18 times in Game 5, the Pacers did just eight times in Game 6. And after getting outscored by 26 points in the paint in Game 5, the Pacers scored 24 more than the Knicks in Game 6.

"Coaches challenged our effort, I think that was the biggest thing," said Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton, who had 15 points and 9 assists. "We had some boneheaded things happen [in Game 5]. ... He just really challenged our group [players] 1-15 on how can we be better."

For the Knicks, their focus after the loss wasn't just on the forthcoming Game 7 but also prized do-everything player Josh Hart, who suffered an abdominal injury fighting for a rebound in the first quarter Friday night and labored through the game before finally coming out in the fourth quarter. He managed eight rebounds and still played more than 30 minutes, but he was not his usual impactful self.

Hart, who played 144 consecutive minutes in the series at one point, alarmed his teammates when he twice had to ask out of the game to stretch and put heating pads on the left side of his abdomen. Knicks trainers assembled a web-like array of kinesio-style tape under his uniform trying to give him some relief.

Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau didn't have a postgame update on Hart, who left the game without speaking to reporters. But to a man, his Knicks teammates said they expected he would play Sunday afternoon despite a tight turnaround.

"I would assume he's going to play," Knicks star Jalen Brunson said. "It's Game 7."

"Him asking out is not a good sign, but I think he'll bounce back," Miles McBride said.

"Knowing him, he'll do whatever to play," Isaiah Hartenstein said. "If his leg's not falling off, he'll do whatever to play."

How well Hart might be able to play is another question.

The Pacers could see Hart was struggling and not able to be his typically active self. With the Knicks already playing small, as they are without three forwards and a center due to injury, the Pacers went after Hart defensively with their size. Indiana shot 14-of-20 against Hart when he was the primary defender, according to ESPN Stats & Information, a huge departure from his normal style.

Forward Pascal Siakam, who had 25 points in his best game of the series, and center Myles Turner, who had 17 points, were among the attackers on Hart and the other Knicks interior defenders.

"It was just activity. We played harder tonight, which was a must," Carlisle said. "We moved the ball better and we got more rebounds, and that's obviously a big key to the series."

Throughout the past two weeks, so much of the competition and strategy between the teams has centered on Brunson. The back-and-forth of the Pacers changing defenders and schemes against the Knicks unveiling wrinkles and lineup changes has largely defined the series.

Aaron Nesmith, who has drawn the primary assignment in the past four games, was more active in fighting over and around screens than in Game 5 when the Knicks were repeatedly able to free Brunson from his control. Brunson had less space Friday, especially early in the game, and even when he did get clean looks, he misfired.

Brunson made his first two shots in the first quarter and then missed his next 11; that 2-of-13 was the worst shooting half of his playoff career.

He rebounded in the second half and was able to get free from Nesmith, scoring 26 of his 31 points and making 9 of 13 shots, but the Knicks were already down more than 20 when he got going.

Pacers reserve guard T.J. McConnell, who had 15 points off the bench, was also part of the effort on Brunson.

"They try to make things difficult," Brunson said. "And I have to adjust as well. Show me different looks and I have to do a better job of reading it."

But the Pacers didn't think they had anything with Brunson figured out. He has two 40-point games at home in this series, and most of the Pacers' key players will be taking part in their first Game 7.

"We gotta brace for Sunday. We know the kind of effort [Brunson] is going to bring on Sunday," Carlisle said. "And we must be ready."