Discover more from Fieldhouse Files with Scott Agness
Tyrese Haliburton absorbed all of All-Star weekend, even bonus time — 'taking a step back and reflecting'
The Pacers point guard scored 18 points in 14 minutes off the bench for Team LeBron in a loss Sunday at Vivint Arena.
SALT LAKE CITY — Less than 15 minutes after Team Giannis had defeated Team LeBron in the 72nd NBA All-Star game, Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton arrived at the mix zone to discuss his All-Star experience with the media.
By the end of it, he acknowledged how he had made a big rookie mistake.
“This is my first All-Star game so I was like I want to be here and enjoy it. But, man, I think out of the 24 All-Stars, the other 23 all said we’re leaving after tonight,” Haliburton said. “So I might be the only one staying tonight, but it’s all right. My fam is here, we’re just about to have a good night.”
By the time reporters arrived on the event level of Vivint Arena, LeBron James was wrapping up at the podium. He was a team captain and played in the first half, then sat out the final two quarters with a right hand contusion. And soon after, he was on the next plane smoking…
“He’s probably on the beach already,” Haliburton joked. "I wouldn’t be surprised.”
See… that’s the veteran, savvy move. In and out of the city on the same day.
Haliburton, meanwhile, is just 22 years old and in his third NBA season. He was voted into the game for the first time by head coaches, which means more than the starters vote because that’s simply a popularity contest.
Haliburton was rewarded for his improved play, helping the Pacers get off to a fast start and averaging 20 points and 10 assists per game this season.
“It’s a great feeling to be part of a select few,” James said earlier this month when discussing Haliburton’s play. “… It’s definitely a respect thing. He’s been playing good basketball this year.”
Before the big game, Haliburton reached the finals of the 3-point contest on Saturday. He matched the record for points scored in a round (31), but lost to fellow All-Star Damian Lillard in the finals.
Then on Sunday night, before the game tipped off at 8:44 p.m. ET, the NBA held a live draft of teams for the first time. It lasted about a half hour, then Post Malone performed before the players returned to the floor for another warmup period.
Haliburton was pleasantly surprised to be the eighth reserve selected (of 14) — and he loved the fact it was by LeBron, a player he watched and admired while growing up Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
“Like I always say, I go into things having low expectations so I thought for sure I was gonna be the last pick today,” he said. “Surprised that I came in the middle, but I was like that’s dope.”
This weekend is a showcase for the league. The game reaches fans in 214 countries and territories in 60 language. For Haliburton and the Pacers it represents a larger reach because they’ve only appeared on national TV once this season.
Haliburton came off the bench for the first time in the second quarter of Team Giannis’ 184-175 win. It didn’t even have the intensity of a pick-up game because no defense was played. Haliburton observed how loose the game was being played, then checked in with 9:47 on the clock, notably replacing ex-Pacer Paul George on Team LeBron.
He wasn’t anxious or nervous. Those feelings left him after he air-balled his first shot during team practice on Saturday morning.
“I’m coming off the bench so I just read the energy of the game,” he said of the lack of defense. “I was just doing what everybody else was doing. They let me get a dunk, tell Buddy [Hield] that. Count that on the list too.”
The reference above to Hield speaks to their brotherly relationship and how it’s always a competition. They keeping track of which player dunks more in games this season.
And unsurprisingly, Haliburton recorded two assists before scoring for the first time. That came with 5:32 left in the half, a dunk coming off a dribble hand-off with Philadelphia center Joel Embiid.
Haliburton finished with 18 points in just 14 minutes. He was 7 of 9 from the field, 4 of 6 from distance — and he contributed three assists and a rebound.
And he was not played by head coach Michael Malone (of the Nuggets) in the first or third quarters. What’s up with that? Haliburton didn’t get an explanation.
“Nah,” he said with a smile. “I was like ‘You can play me as much as you want, as little as you want. I don’t care. I’m just happy to be here.’ … I had a good time. Made use of my minutes and had fun out there.”
Fieldhouse Files with Scott Agness is a reader-supported publication with both free and paid subscriptions available. Those who opt for the paid edition are receiving every post and taking an active role in supporting my independent coverage of the Indiana Pacers. Feel free to forward this post along to family and friends interested in the team.
This was both the next milestone in his career, a reward for what he’s accomplished, and a push for bigger things. Greatness inspires greatness and he had many conversations with fellow All-Stars throughout the weekend.
Like Bucks guard Jrue Holiday.
“I talk to him all the time,” Holiday said. “For one, he can get to it. Boy, he came out and was knocking down 3s, getting layups and ended with, what, 20 points? I love the way he plays. He kind of has this unorthodox way of playing, but you can tell by his energy, you can tell by how he leads his team, he’s somebody that I would love to play with. Talking to him on this trip has been cool.”
Haliburton’s locker was next to De’Aaron Fox and Kyrie Irving. “Obviously playing with Fox for a year and a half [in Sacramento], then I looked up to Kyrie for a while as somebody I truly believe that I can speak to at any time. I always feel like we have a great conversation when we talk.
“The biggest thing I hope to get out of this experience is getting to know guys better. I think being here at All-Stars, people are going to maybe look at me a little different. I think it’s solidified me a little bit more so that’s really cool.”
Haliburton scored 11 of his 18 points in the final quarter. Jayson Tatum went off, piled up an All-Star record 55 points and then was named game MVP.
It wasn’t a true basketball game since defense wasn’t just optional, it was nonexistent. But this is the one time each year where most of the league’s best players are in the same city and on the same court at the same time.
Haliburton and his three Pacers teammates at All-Star weekend didn’t get a vacation after 60 games; no beach time. Instead, they all returned to Indy afterward.
“We got practice on Tuesday, you know RC [Rick Carlisle] don’t play,” Haliburton said.
However, before he departed Salt Lake City on Monday, Haliburton enjoyed Sunday night with those closest to him — including his parents, girlfriend and a few close friends. They gathered together for a nice dinner, where he then took time to reflect on the last couple of years and all it took for him to earn his place as an All-Star.
“I think that’s what it’s been about all week, taking a step back and reflecting,” he said. “Now get past this, get home and be ready to finish the season out right.”
Of course, this isn’t the end of his story … it’s merely the beginning.
He has greater individual and team goals. And that includes being an All-Star in his city next year when Indianapolis hosts the 2024 All-Star game.
“It’ll be fun,” he said excitedly. “I’m already starting to plan some stuff. I see how hectic it is out here for Donovan [Mitchell] just coming back to Utah. In Indy, I’ll make sure that it’s my home. I’ll make sure everybody’s taken care of.
“Being at home, I don’t have to stay in a hotel or anything. I can stay in my house, just come to practice, come to the game so I’m excited about that. I got to get back here next year.”