The Pacers need to stick to this Jalen Brunson matchup

Jalen Brunson has been unstoppable for the majority of this series unless the Pacers put Aaron Nesmith on him.
Indiana Pacers v New York Knicks - Game Five
Indiana Pacers v New York Knicks - Game Five / Sarah Stier/GettyImages

There's no other way to put this, Jalen Brunson is unguardable with the way the Pacers have been defending him.

Jalen Brunson has been nothing short of spectacular in this series. In five games so far, Brunson has averaged 32 points on near-50% shooting and has had two games of 40 or more points. Game 5 on Tuesday was one of those games, as Brunson led New York's offensive charge against Indiana, scoring 44 points on 18/35 shooting while playing 43 minutes, essentially the opposite of Tyrese Haliburton's passive performance.

A lot of this is the result of who has been guarding Brunson. It is no coincidence that Brunson's best shooting nights of the series came in Games 1 and and 2 where he shot 54% and 61%, respectively. The majority of offensive production he had in the first two games was with Andrew Nembhard guarding him.

Now, with all due respect to Nembhard, who has made a name for himself as a fantastic defender who can give stars fits at times, with Damian Lillard in the first round being a key example. However, and this is not to put a damper on his defensive skills, he just cannot guard Jalen Brunson. This is not just a hunch, as the stats back this theory up, as I will show later on.

After all, it is not just a coincidence that Brunson had his two worst shooting nights of the series in Games 3 and 4. In these games, Rick Carlisle made the switch and had Aaron Nesmith guard Brunson, which worked just as well as anyone thought.

In these games, both Indiana wins, Brunson averaged 22 points on only 27% shooting and 18% from deep. Clearly bothered by Nesmith's length and hustle, Brunson almost became a non-factor on the court in these games, especially in Game 4, in which he only had 18 points on 6/17 shooting.

With this being said, it is baffling that Carlisle decided to stray away from this and put Nembhard back on Brunson to start Game 5. Like clockwork, Brunson showed why this was a bad idea, as he exploded for 28 points in the first half on 12/18 shooting. It got so bad that the commentators and halftime show analysts were also wondering why Nesmith was not back on Brunson, as every logical sign pointed to that being the obvious switch, with the stats backing it up as well.

Sure enough, Rick Carlisle made the adjustment to put Nesmith on Brunson in the second half, which worked like a charm yet again. After exploding in the first half, Brunson was held to 16 points on only 6/17 shooting in the second half and two turnovers as Nesmith once again gave him fits on the defensive end with his length and hustle.

Unfortunately, it was too late by then and Indiana could not take advantage and lost in a 91-121 blowout, putting them down 2-3 in the series with a possibility of being sent home after Game 6.

Again, this is not to disrespect Andrew Nembhard, who is a great defender with a fantastic upside. However, it cannot be denied how much he has struggled guarding Brunson this series. It may not even be a physical thing as much as it is a mental thing.

When Nembhard is on him, Brunson plays far more aggressively, posting up the guard and using his strength to his advantage as he did against Tyrese Maxey in the first-round series against Philadelphia.

Jalen Brunson is an incredibly talented scorer, and Games 1, 2, and 5 have shown as much. With Indiana's backs against the wall, there is no reason for Rick Carlisle to hold back and put Nembhard on him any longer with how poorly he has defended him.


Now is a better time than ever to put Aaron Nesmith on him full-time, especially with OG Anunoby most likely not returning in the series. Indiana has no room to be conservative anymore. Now is the time to unleash every trick in the book