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The Pacers loss to the Knicks and Caitlin Clark’s struggles make for a tough night for Indiana

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It was a tough Tuesday night for Indiana basketball.

The Pacers suffered a 121-91 drubbing at the hands of the Knicks in a crucial Game 5 loss at Madison Square Garden, leaving them one loss away from elimination in their second-round NBA playoff series.

About 130 miles to the northeast, the Indiana Fever dropped their season opener, 92-71, to the Connecticut Sun, with rookie phenom Caitlin Clark struggling in her long-awaited WNBA debut.

The Pacers returned to New York with the momentum of back-to-back wins in Games 3 and 4 in Indianapolis, ending the best-of-seven series at 2-2.

Indiana won Game 4 in a big way on Sunday, rolling over the Knicks 121-89 in a game that was decided so quickly that both teams rested their starters for the final quarter.

But the Knicks returned the favor on Tuesday, defeating the Pacers 121-91, in a game they outscored Indiana 53-29; forced 18 turnovers; scored 26 second chance points; and shot 47-of-101 from the field.

“It’s obviously a very poor effort,” Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said afterward. “Lost every quarter. Was destroyed by loose balls and rebounds. Gave up 20 offensive rebounds and 29 more shots. We all own it, but very embarrassing. Very embarrassing and a hard lesson.”

The lopsided loss leaves the Pacers returning to Indianapolis at 3-2 for Friday night’s Game 6.

“They killed us on the glass better than they probably have in any game in the entire series,” said Pacers star Tyrese Haliburton, who scored 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting. “We just didn’t reach that level of intensity all night. When we cut it to seven there early in the second half, they got some momentum going, but they answered right back.

Clark, meanwhile, scored a fever-high 20 points but shot 5 of 15 from the field and committed 10 turnovers. She picked up two early fouls and missed her first four shot attempts before scoring her first basket at 5:24 of the second quarter.

“Obviously I’m disappointed, and no one likes to lose,” Clark said afterwards. “That’s true, but I don’t think you can beat yourself too much for one match. I don’t think it’s going to help this team.”

Clark, who faced tough defense from Connecticut’s DiJonai Carrington, referenced the physicality of Tuesday’s game several times during her post-game press conference.

“I thought it took me a while to get into the game,” Clark said. “I thought the second half was a lot better, minus some of the ups and downs, but I got more and more comfortable, and that’s just going to come with experience and learning how to play with these girls.”

Selected first overall in the WNBA Draft last month, Clark arrived with enormous hype after a four-year collegiate career at Iowa, where she left as the NCAA’s all-time leading scorer.

Her home debut will take place on Thursday evening at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, the day before Game 6 between the Knicks and Pacers is scheduled for the arena.

“We have to make some serious adjustments for Game 6,” Carlisle said, “and we have to get out of here and go home.”