Obi Toppin against Knicks' Julius Randle

Getty Julius Randle #30 of the New York Knicks shoots the ball while defended by Obi Toppin #1 of the Indiana Pacers.

There are a lot of storylines in this throwback second-round playoff series between the New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers that tips off on Monday, May 6.

One of them is the return of Knicks’ former lottery pick Obi Toppin to Madison Square Garden where Knicks fans used to root for him. But now that he’s on one of the Knicks’s fiercest rival teams in the 90s, Toppin is not expecting a warm welcome.

“We understand what type of crowd is going to be there,” Toppin told reporters after the Pacers’ Saturday practice. “Celebrities are going to be there like we just got to lock into our main things and play our type of basketball.”

The Knicks will be looking to slow down the Pacers, who averaged 113.0 points (2nd in the playoffs) in their six-game conquest of the injury-hit Milwaukee Bucks. It’s going to be the classic duel of offense versus defense. The Knicks had the second-best defense — holding the Philadelphia 76ers to just 108.2 points per game — next only to the surging Minnesota Timberwolves in the West.

Toppin claimed the MSG crowd no longer excites him.

“I’m from New York,” said the Brooklyn-born Toppin. “You play in Dyckman, you play in the Rucker Park. You see that every single day so it’s like being from New York, that doesn’t really excite me anymore.”


From Lottery Pick to Role Player

Toppin was the first draft pick of current Knicks president Leon Rose. A consensus national player of the year in college, Toppin’s selection by his hometown team was a dream come true for him.

But it gradually turned into a nightmare as he languished on the bench behind three-time All-Star forward Julius Randle. Now the Knicks are forced to playing Josh Hart almost the entire game (46.8 minutes) in their playoff run with Randle out for the season with a shoulder injury and Toppin, the former backup power forward, gone.

“We always thought [Toppin] was a good player,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau told New York Post. “I don’t think anything has changed. Very athletic, runs the floor great, shoots the ball, can score the ball. He’s always been able to score. Like I said, we loved having him. He was in a situation here where he’s playing behind Julius [Randle]. So that was the story behind that.”

After three dismal season with the Knicks — winning a Slam Dunk title was the only high point of his Knicks career — he was traded to the Pacers last summer for a couple of second-round picks.

Toppin initially started in 28 games for the Pacers before coach Rick Carlisle pulled the plug on him. Carlisle moved Toppin to the second unit where he thrived and helped the Pacers in their first playoff series win since 2014.

The former No. 8 pick just scored a playoff career-high 21 points and 8 rebounds in the Pacers’ 120-98 series-clinching win over the Bucks in Game 6.


Obi Toppin’s Mindset Against Former Team

Revenge against the Knicks never came out of Toppin’s mouth. But he understands the circumstances that he is in is now part of the rivalry between his former and current teams, who had physical and exciting playoff battles in the 90s.

“It’s definitely a crazy rivalry,” Toppin said, “but at the end of the day, we all got here and basically we’re going into battle as soon as we get to New York. Obviously like I said they’re one of the most physical teams in the league. They’ve had that identity for many years and we just got to come in there and and match their physicality and play our type of basketball and I feel like we’ll be good at that.”

Toppin was not known for his physical plays but rather a finesse player who energizes the crowd with his highlight dunks. But this time his dunks will no longer draw “oohs and aahs” from the Garden crowd.

The once promising lottery selection is just content playing his role.

“I feel like I’m preparing myself just like I did for Milwaukee,” Toppin said. “Just locking into everything the coaches are telling us to do offensively and defensively, and playing my role.”

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