Quarterfinal Preview: Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton entered the season tired of losing — and he's playing like it
On how Haliburton's primary focus is on team success, specifically wins that will lead to a postseason opportunity. As part of that, the Pacers reached the elite 8 of the in-season tournament.
It’s not an overreaction to say the Indiana Pacers are hosting their biggest game in more than four years Monday night when the Boston Celtics are in town. It’s the first-ever quarterfinal game in the NBA’s new in-season tournament. There’s an additional $50,000 bonus on the line for each player on the winning team and the opportunity to advance to the semi-final round in Las Vegas later this week.
The Pacers haven’t qualified for the postseason the last three seasons.
The Pacers haven’t won a playoff game since 2018, when they pushed LeBron James’ Cavaliers to seven games.
The Pacers haven’t won a playoff series since 2014, when Paul George was the face of the team.
Yes, it’s been a long time.
And the same is true for Tyrese Haliburton and most of his teammates. They’re so young that they haven’t been in big games, certainly not on the NBA level. It’s Buddy Hield’s eighth season and he’s yet to compete in a playoff game, a streak he intends to end this season.
All of them do.
So coming into this season, Haliburton stressed that the team would go as he goes.
“The better I am, as the leader of the group, I think the better we will be as a team,” he said back in September.
He also had one grand takeaway from the offseason, which included six weeks spent with Team USA playing in the FIBA World Cup. Enough with the losing; he wanted to play on the big stage … against the best … and in front of a larger audience.
“I’m just tired of losing,” he said. “I just want to win. I haven’t had a winning season since like my freshman year of college so, to be honest, I’m just tired. I just want to win games. I know that there’s some things that I got to change about what I do as a basketball player to do that — and I’m willing to do that to win games.”
Haliburton and the Pacers have that chance Monday night. It’ll be their first national TV game of the season (TNT, Bally Sports Indiana) and they will be the only NBA game on (with Pelicans at Kings to follow).
This is their moment.
This is the moment Haliburton, who’s just 23 years old, has been craving and working toward. You have to go back to Haliburton's freshman season at Iowa State University (2018-19), when he averaged 6.8 points and 3.6 assists per game, for the last time his team had a winning record.
“After the season ended, I think that’s something that the whole team wanted to do,” said young center Isaiah Jackson. “I think we put more emphasis on it when we went to Nashville and brought in guys like Bruce (Brown) and Obi (Toppin). Bruce can relate to winning. He talked about it ac couple times in Nashville. It’s something that everybody wants to do. You can tell after the USA thing, Ty talked about how he’s tired of losing.
“We want to bring a winning mentality to Indiana and make it a basketball state again.”
Added Hield back on media day: “We’re ready to go, grind, lock in and get better defensively. “That’s the main priority. We can score on anybody, but getting better defensively and just executing and closing out games we should close out.”
The Pacers are 10-8 to start the season, just inside the top six of the Eastern Conference standings. And they’re about to begin a more difficult portion of their schedule.
Before then, though, the team is coming together for a massive game Monday night.
The organization has embraced it, setting out gold rally towels on each seat at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. They’ve decorated the entry pavilion as if it’s a playoff game. And win or lose, more Pacers fans will be able to watch on TNT — while casuals may get to see them for the first time.