The Knicks met again after the All-Star break with clear heads and rested bodies, albeit with largely the same basketball team that had lost more than twice as many games as in the first two thirds of the season.
A late comeback offer from a 22-point hole, led by the youngest first-round picks RJ Barrett and Frank Ntilikina, fell short on Friday night. The last 27-game stretch of another wasted year began with a loss to an opponent in the playoffs. The Knicks fell against Indiana at the Garden between 106 and 98.
Interim coach Mike Miller and Ntilikina and Barrett were in the back seat, with Damyean Dotson and Kevin Knox also getting minutes in the crunch time.
"I just think the coaches published it there tonight. I think it worked," said Barrett. "I think it was a cool group. We play together as a team every day. We can do with any lineup play. "
Two-time all-star guard Victor Oladipo, who appeared for the eighth time this season after a quad crack in January 2019, scored eight points for the Pacers (33-23) in 25 minutes. T.J. Warren led Indy with 27 points, while Domantas Sabonis finished with 24 points and 13 rebounds.
Bobby Portis scored 19 points from the bank for the Knicks (17-39), while Barrett scored 17 points after his 27 points in the Rising Stars game on the All Star weekend.
"I think it was great, I think on all sides," Miller said before the game about 19-year-old Barrett's first taste of the league's showcase event in the off-season. "It was great that he could do that. I think it was a good time for him to get well, feel good, and have a chance to play. "
Ntilikina had only logged more than 14 minutes twice in his last nine games, but the disappointing 2017 lottery choice received another chance for a longer season as Elfrid Payton was out due to an ankle injury.
Ntilikina returned to the starting line-up and the 21-year-old point guard scored 14 points with two assists in 32 minutes (5: 11). He is one of several young players who need to rate the Knicks over their remaining plan to determine their place in the future of the organization.
"The real goal for us is to win day by day and win every game," said Ntilikina.
The Knicks' defense kept the visitors at only 15 points (26.1 percent) in 6v23 shooting and led 20-15 through the first quarter. But Warren and former kink Doug McDermott (14 points) each scored seven points in the second game. The Pacers improved from the ground to 13 out of 20 points in the session and took the break 51:44.
A 3-pointer from another ex-knick, Justin Holiday, and a free throw from Oladipo completed an increase of 23 points in Indiana to open the third quarter and extended their lead to 22 points.
The Knicks scraped back to hit 80-65 in the final quarter, and Ntilikina's 3-pointer pulled her within 12 points at the start of the fourth quarter. McDermott ended a four-point game at 7:40 to take the lead in Indiana to 13 points, but Barrett's two buckets, which were trapped around Ntilikina's corner three, made it a six-point game at 6:49 before the end.
Dotson's 3-pointer, 23.6-second lead, reduced the deficit to 98-94, but Malcolm Brogdon lowered two free throws to seal the Knicks' third consecutive loss that bridged the All-Star break.
"They pushed more than we did and made more hectic games," said Barrett. "We defended well [in the fourth quarter], but they got the second chance points. "