Jalen Brunson connection adds spicy storyline to Knicks-Pacers playoff matchup

Brunson and Carlisle are very familiar with each other.
New York Knicks, Dallas Mavericks
New York Knicks, Dallas Mavericks / Thearon W. Henderson/GettyImages

Jalen Brunson led the New York Knicks past the Sixers in the first round, and he's hoping to do the same against the Pacers in the second round. It's been 24 years since New York played in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Last year, the Knicks learned not to overlook their second-round opponent, no matter if it's a lower seed. New York has homecourt advantage (again) and should send Indiana packing, but anything can happen in the postseason. The Knicks must stay focused.

Outside of Obi Toppin, Brunson will be up against a familiar face. Pacers' Rick Carlisle was the Mavericks' head coach during the guard's first three years in Dallas. In Carlisle's final game in Dallas, Brunson played 10 minutes in a Game 7 loss against the Clippers in the first round. If things had gone differently during that year's postseason, Brunson most likely would've signed an extension to stay with the Mavericks.

Brunson will go up against former head coach in the second round

On ESPN's 'Brian Windhorst & The Hoop Collective Show,' Tim MacMahon said that Brunson would "enjoy lighting up" Carlisle because he remembers "getting benched" in the 2021 series.

On Saturday, Brunson was asked if there's added motivation for him to beat his former head coach. Unsurprisingly, he brushed the question off and spoke highly of Carlisle.

Carlisle was also asked about Brunson, and he raved about the now Knicks star guard.

"Just professional, great character, great basketball, great respect and love for the game. You cannot say enough great things about him and what he’s accomplished. He’s obviously a highly skilled player, but he’s got an indomitable will to accomplish what naysayers don’t think he can do. He’s just one of those kinds of guys. You have to respect what he’s doing."

Rick Carlisle, via NYP

After Carlisle left Indiana, Brunson averaged a (then) career-high 16.3 points, 4.8 assists, and 3.9 rebounds per game under Jason Kidd. In the 2022 playoffs, he averaged 21.6 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game and was a large part of the reason the Mavericks made it to the Western Conference Finals.

Brunson's used to being counted out. He'd never admit it, but knowing how he is as a competitor, there's a good chance a series win over the Pacers would be made a little sweeter because of the Carlisle connection. You don't forget getting benched.

Brunson scored 47 points in round one, a Knicks playoff franchise-high, and don't be surprised if he breaks his own record in the semifinals against Indiana.