Don’t let the Indiana Pacers’ 11-8 record fool you; they have yet to drop a game in the inaugural NBA In-Season Tournament.
The Pacers breezed through the group stage of the In-Season Tournament, earning a “favorable” matchup against the Boston Celtics, the Eastern Conference’s wildcard. About a month ago, the Celtics obliterated Indiana in a 155-104 victory. But that was without Tyrese Haliburton.
Haliburton assisted on or scored 16 of the Pacers’ 37 points in the fourth quarter, with his four-point play swinging the momentum to Indiana for good. But then, the numbers may not even do justice to the 2023 NBA All-Star, who runs the Pacers office to a T and has been a big reason why the team is the best in the NBA in assists per game at 30.2.
As great as Haliburton was, however, credit must also be given to those who made their shots. Seven players scored in double figures in Indiana, which also finished with 28 assists. Buddy Hield and Ben Mathurin joined Haliburton in doing damage from behind the 3-point line, while Obi Toppin, Myles Turner, and Aaron Nesmith feasted on a frontcourt that was led by an aging Al Horford. Simply put, the flow of the offense was great on its own, but it sure is great to play in an environment like the one Indiana provided last night.
The postseason won’t begin until springtime next year, but we all got a taste of the playoff atmosphere thanks to the In-Season Tournament. The players themselves, at least on the Pacers’ side, had a different kind of energy to their game. Of course, the $500k to be awarded to each player from the winning team is quite an incentive, but the In-Season Tournament allows teams like Indiana to play with higher stakes involved.
The Pacers may be 5-0 in the In-Season Tournament, but their 6-8 record in their other games leaves a lot to be desired. Of course, that’s something they will need to address, and it all starts with stability. Haliburton’s presence has been a major contributor to the oncourt stability and it has so far given Indiana the highest-scoring offense in the league at 128.4 points per game on an NBA-best 50.9 percent shooting from the field.
Their defense and ability to regain possessions needs some work, however, as the Pacers are among the worst rebounding teams in the league (39.5 rebounds per game). Teams may eventually Target Haliburton and Hield in defense down the stretch so there will have to be some adjustments on that end as well.
Equally important, though, is the offcourt stability. While they won’t admit it, the trade rumors in the past few seasons surrounding Hield and Turner affected them and to some extent, the team as well. Those rumors have since been put to bed (for now), so everyone can thankfully stick to basketball.
The Indians Pacers seem to flip the switch when games have NBA In-Season Tournament implications and with what’s at stake, who can blame them? The games outside of the In-Season tournament may provide a different narrative, but we may eventually see the fruits of their efforts in this inaugural competition during the latter parts of the regular season.