Knicks 'gave everything they had,' come up short in Game 7

NEW YORK -- Pretty much all season, even as his team was without its two-time All-NBA forward, its one-time starting center and its do-it-all wing stopper, New York Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau was consistent.

"We have enough," he'd often say. "It's just next man up."

On Sunday, after his short-handed club fell 130-109 in Game 7 at home against the Indiana Pacers, Thibodeau finally acknowledged what had seemed to be the case for so long.

"I thought guys gave everything they had, and that's all you can ask," he said, after giving credit to the Pacers for taking the series. "It was a battle all year, and there was nothing left to give."

The team was already without three key players heading into Sunday's all-or-nothing battle.

Two-time All-NBA forward Julius Randle dislocated his right shoulder in late January and was eventually ruled out for the season. Center Mitchell Robinson missed 50 games, then came back for the final month of play and was a key contributor in the playoffs -- only to get hurt and require ankle surgery earlier this month. And backup wing Bojan Bogdanovic got hurt during the team's first-round series win over Philadelphia, undergoing foot and wrist surgeries that kept him out for the remainder of the postseason.

Then, if those weren't enough, the rest of the rotation -- forced to play massive minutes in their teammates' absence -- was under siege from an injury perspective as well.

Star defender OG Anunoby -- who'd been out since Game 2, when he strained his left hamstring -- returned for Game 7. But even though he hit 2 3s in his 4½-minute stint, his return quickly looked like a poor idea, as he appeared immensely stiff and stilted in his movements, particularly on defense.

Indiana knew it and took advantage by hitting all four shot attempts that saw Anunoby serving as the primary defender involved, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Iron man Josh Hart, who was questionable for Game 7 after being sidelined for parts of Game 6 with an abdominal injury, managed to make it through the deciding contest. But then the club lost its star floor general, Jalen Brunson, when he fractured his hand by slapping down on the ball trying to defend Indiana's Tyrese Haliburton late in the third quarter. That injury was ultimately too big to overcome, particularly with the Knicks trying to play catch-up.

Prior to that, the Knicks believed -- just as they had all season.

"I don't want to discredit them at all, but even with everything that happened, it was an 11-or 12-point game with 5 or 6 minutes left [in the third]," said guard Donte DiVincenzo, who put a stamp on his career-best season by finishing with 39 points in Game 7. "That's our mindset as an organization: Everybody we put out there is going to give 110%, and we have a system and core principles that, if you believe in them, you give yourself a shot in every game."

Even with the Knicks falling short of what would have been their first conference finals appearance since 2000, it's clear the energy around the team has shifted. While it has personnel questions -- Thibodeau is in need of a contract extension, and Anunoby and center Isaiah Hartenstein are unrestricted free agents this summer -- the franchise has assets and cap space to potentially make another leap.

Harkening back to the hard-nosed, 1990s Knicks clubs that New York City fell in love with, this Knicks team has an identity and left every ounce of effort it had on the Garden floor. After two decades or so of losing, mismanagement and wayward dealmaking, the Knicks have confidence they can accomplish more in the years to come.

"I think [the future] is very bright, and there's hope for what we're building," Hart said. "The offseason is a business, and there are decisions that are going to be made. Guys are going to be coming in and going out. But we've been built a foundation of a franchise that's going to be fighting, and that's moving in the right direction. It's tough to end it this way, but we're going in the right direction, and we're giving this city and the fans something to hope for."