It’s the first year for the NBA In-Season Tournament, and the Indiana Pacers are one team that has enjoyed the colorful courts and extra incentive for some of these regular season games. The Pacers went 4-0 in pool play, including impressive wins over Philadelphia, Cleveland, and Atlanta. Because of that, they won their pool and have earned an additional home game as they head to the “Knockout Round” early next week. It will be a tough match-up, however, as the Boston Celtics will visit Indianapolis for the big game on Monday night.
Eight teams remain in the tournament, and the four winners in the Knockout Round will head to Las Vegas for the semi-finals and championship next weekend. Whether you like the tourney or not, the hype, experience, and extra home game for the Pacers is good for the city and the franchise. Myles Turner recently told us, “It’s obviously not the playoffs, but it has a playoff feel.” For a young team, any experience like this is a good thing.
The challenge for the Pacers has been performing in all of the other “regular” games. Their impressive 4-0 record in the tournament hasn’t translated to other games, as they’ve been under .500 against all other opponents. They’ve racked up several tough home losses against teams like Charlotte, Chicago, and most recently, Portland. On Monday, I asked Pacers star Tyrese Haliburton if he felt like his team was having an issue getting up for the non-tournament games.
“I mean I don’t feel that way,” Haliburton said. “We’re not an established team in this league. So to not get up to play anyone is a joke. We’ve got to be ready to go. I’m not really rolling with that. We’re a young group. We haven’t done anything. We’ve won an in-season tournament group, and that’s cool. If that’s anybody’s approach in that locker room, they need to go somewhere else. We need to figure that out.”
Head Coach Rick Carlisle also shared some passionate words after another disappointing loss on Monday night: “Getting up for in-season tournament games and thinking we can just walk out and beat other teams is ignorant,” said Carlisle. “I own it just as much as anybody in there. We have got to mature, as an entire group. I’m not pointing fingers. It’s us. It’s us in that locker room. There has to be an “all the time” level of urgency. We haven’t demonstrated it.”
I appreciated the passion from both Haliburton and Carlisle, instead of the ‘ho-hum’ type of answers that you often get after a loss. The Pacers have a solid record and the league’s best offense to start the season, and the tourney success as mentioned. But the fans, players, and coaches know that they’ve let several games get away. They should be in a better position, and those tough losses can really hurt.
Are you a “glass half-full” or “glass half-empty” type of fan? You can make a positive and negative case for this team so far this season. On the bright side: They’ve shown they can beat good teams. They have a rising superstar leading their group. And whatever happens on Monday night, the franchise is starting to make their climb back to relevancy in the NBA.