Pacers close out Bucks, advance to IST Championship game
The Pacers lit up Vegas on Thursday afternoon, forcing the NBA world to take notice.
The Pacers took down the Bucks, 128-119 with a strong finish orchestrated by Tyrese Haliburton to advance to the championship game in the NBA In-Season Tournament. That means the Pacers will play for the inaugural NBA Cup on Saturday night.
There are plenty of areas to focus on after this exciting win. The defense that was just good enough for three quarters. The ability to survive a 43-point quarters with Dame cooking outside and Giannis getting to the rim at will. The bench flipping the flow of the game in both the first and second half. Nembhard finding cracks in the zone with his midrange game. Bruce Brown tagging in for Nembhard and making an impact with his patented midrange floaters. Myles Turner with the inside and outside game, but often finishing strong at the rim. Surviving a horrible (7 for 33) shooting night from behind the arc and still winning.
Oh, and Tyrese. The 27 points and dagger 3. The 15 assists. The ZERO turnovers…again. It was his time! Like Monday, the whole NBA world was watching and what they saw on Monday was not a fluke.
All worthy topics, but for the second consecutive game the Pacers were money at winning time. On Monday, they closed out the No. 1 team in the East (Celtics) in the final three minutes with a 21-11 run. On Thursday, the Pacers closed out the No. 2 team in the East (Bucks) with a 17-9 run. Like, Monday, the Pacers turned an intense, clutch time situation against the Bucks into a Pacers party with big shots and big celebrations.
Against the C’s, Haliburton, Buddy Hield and Aaron Nesmith were the closers, making plays and outdueling Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. On Thursday, the Bucks had two of the best to ever do it in Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard. This time for the Pacers, Myles Turner, Bruce Brown and Buddy Hield helped Haliburton close it down.
Haliburton had the signature dagger to put away the Bucks. A 25-foot three-ball that pushed a five point lead to eight with 49 seconds left. When the ball splashed, a timeout was called and the Pacers bench erupted onto the floor, much as they did after Aaron Nesmith dunked and dashed the Celtics’ hopes of winning on Monday.
Haliburton turned to the crowd and looked at his wrist, the signature move Lillard has used in big games, to say it was ‘Dame Time’ after making clutch shots. Lillard was asked a benign question about the gesture by Haliburton, as if it was a young fella paying him respect. Didn’t appear Dame took it that way, saying he wasn’t moved left or right by the gesture, after saying if he wants to dish it out, he has to take it. But he also said you have to be careful and humble when having those moments because you never know “how the tables turn and when they turn.” Hmm, sounds like a little Central Division rivalry brewing.
Gotta love it!
Pointing out the back-to-back closing efforts against the top two teams in the East, both with veteran closers, is a mea culpa for me. A critique of the Pacers has been that they need someone besides Haliburton to step up in these clutch situation. The worry of fading against the elite teams has been real, but the IST effort has lifted the roster to another level. Instead of one player, the Pacers are leaning on two or three to team up with Ty.
Yes, Haliburton makes everyone better…but this is ridiculous. The Pacers had one of their worst shooting nights but were able to win for the first time with fewer than 10 three-pointers because this team, the collective team with Haliburton leading the way, Has found ways to get stops, crash the glass and scrounge up buckets even when the shots aren’t falling.
Had the Pacers lost, I would’ve pointed to the second quarter when they outscored the Bucks 36-22. It should’ve been much worse. There were some missed wide open threes. Also, some ill-advised shots (thinking of a Tyrese 30-footer) which don’t seem so bad when things are rolling, but then turn into too much meat left on the bone. It as a missed chance to really punish the Bucks, even when they were +14.
With the outlandish pace and offensive efficiency the Pacers play with, they have to keep the hammer down. Fortunately, there were no such problems at winning time, as the Pacers have used their depth, even when tightening the rotation minutes, to wear out both the Celtics and Bucks in consecutive games. When the final buzzer sounded in both games, the Pacers were left celebrating with the W.
What’s next is impossible to predict with this Pacers team, but everyone who loves the NBA will be tuning in, because when they have it going, there is no better show in town. Even in Vegas!
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