Pacers beat back Bucks, again, Haliburton leads East guards in All-Star voting
Tyrese Haliburton put on yet another show in leading the Pacers past the Bucks to take the season series, 4-1 and NBA fans have taken notice.
Beating the Pacers used to be an afterthought for the Bucks. Over the past two years, the Pacers were light work for the Bucks on their way to an elite record in the Eastern Conference. Milwauakee won seven of eight games over the past two season with six of those wins by double digits. The seventh was nine points.
So, you can defend the Bucks for getting caught off guard in early November when the Pacers rallied late to steal a 126-124 win at the Fieldhouse. But then the Pacers really caught the Bucks’ attention under the bright lights in Vegas when they joyously ran past the Bucks in the IST semi-finals.
The Bucks stiffened and showed their respect for the Pacers by beating the Pacers in a chippy rematch in Milwaukee which included all kinds of petty, passive aggressive gamesmanship that lasted well past the final buzzer. Surely, Milwaukee felt they had reasserted their dominance over the Pacers. Afterall, they are playing for a championship run in the spring. Forget these upstart Pacers who talk too much but haven’t done anything.
On the Pacers side, they realized the big, bad bully on their block wasn’t so tough when they stood their ground. This lead to a sweep of the home-and-home series to start January, that had the Pacers not only talking, but laughing at the Bucks trying to mix things up. The Pacers had beaten the Bucks while struggling to shoot from behind the arc, but when they caught fire in the final matchup on Wednesday night, it lead to a double-digit win (142-130) to close out the season series.
Tyrese Haliburton lead the Pacers party with 31 points, 12 assists and 0 turnovers, but the whole team was dialed in when the game flipped in the Pacers’ favor in the third quarter. The Pacers outscored the Bucks, 47-29 in the third, with no player scoring more than 10 points, but eight different players scoring to put up the big number.
Giannis Antetokounmpo admitted after the game that the Bucks can no longer pay the Pacers no mind. He still spoke with the confidence of a champion who expects his team to be ready for the playoff push, when the real season starts. But those expectations are no based on learning from the 1-4 record the Pacers put on them when the Bucks really wanted to shup up their upstart rival.
"You think about it,” Antetokounmpo said about what the Bucks should take away from playing the Pacers. “When you go home and sleep and wake up, you think about it. When you go back and work out, you think about it... When you're about to get freaky at night, you think about it."
Whoa! TMI Giannis.
The Bucks currently sit in second place in the East at 25-10 after beating the Spurs on Thursday night. That means they are 24-6 when not playing the Pacers, which at 80% would be the top winning percentage in the league. Still, they didn’t seem to have the switch they needed to flip at the Fieldhouse. Damian Lillard hasn’t been a game wrecker. The Pacers were able to triple Giannis and hold him to 13 FGAs and just generally frustrate the Bucks throughout the game. Yes, the Pacers slowed down Giannis and he still had 26 points, 11 rebounds and 8 assists.
Did the Pacers expose a bigger problem for the Bucks or are the Pacers just a big problem for the Bucks?
We will find out in due time, but this early season series between the two teams has been a fantastic learning and growth opportunity for the young Pacers roster. The rotation has been adjusted and roles are being filled more efficiently. Stix and Nesmith have stepped up in a starting role, while Mathurin and Toppin are rolling off the bench.
The young fella continues to shine and make the Pacers so fun to watch when they have it going like they did in the second half on Wednesday. His huge numbers in those Bucks games, plus the extra national TV exposure via the IST, has raised both Hali’s profile and that of the team.
The first round of fan voting results for the All-Star Game were released on Thursday and it was simply stunning to see that Haliburton has received the most votes among guards in the East. His 1,380, 795 votes were fourth overall in the East and ninth in the whole league. Pacers fans alone cannot make those kind of numbers happen. WOW!
With the ASG at the Fieldhouse, Haliburton starting in the game would be incredible. He has certainly earned each and every one of those votes, even if he didn’t get many from Milwaukee.
The Pacers move on to more challenging matchups in their next three games at the Fieldhouse when they host the Hawks on Friday, the Celtics on Saturday and the Celtics, again on Monday.
Where: Gainbridge Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, IN
When: Friday, Jan. 5, 2024, 7:00 p.m. ET
TV: Bally Sports
Radio: 93.5/107.5 The Fan
Pacers: Tyrese Haliburton, Bruce Brown, Aaron Nesmith, Jalen Smith, Myles Turner
Hawks: Trae Young, Dejounte Murray, Sadiq Bey, Jalen Johnson, Clint Capela
Pacers: Andrew Nembhard (sore back) - questionable
Hawks: De’Andre Hunter (knee) - out, Mouhamed Gueye (back) - out, Vit Krejci (shoulder) - out
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