Thu | Jul 18, 2024

Pacers put unbeaten home play-off record on the line

Published:Saturday | May 25, 2024 | 12:11 AM
Indiana Pacers forward Obi Toppin (1) puts up a shot against Boston Celtics (centre) Luke Kornet (40) during the third quarter of Game 1 of the NBA Eastern Conference basketball finals on Tuesday in Boston.
Indiana Pacers forward Obi Toppin (1) puts up a shot against Boston Celtics (centre) Luke Kornet (40) during the third quarter of Game 1 of the NBA Eastern Conference basketball finals on Tuesday in Boston.

INDIANAPOLIS (AP):

The Indiana Pacers can read the numbers.

They’re down 2-0 in another best-of-seven series and are heading home, where they are a perfect 6-0 during this season’s play-off run. They need a win in today’s pivotal Game 3 to get back in this series, just as they did last week against New York. And, yes, they’re facing the top-seeded Boston Celtics, who are a perfect 4-0 on the road this post-season.

The bleakest part of this equation for Indiana is the possibility of losing All-NBA guard Tyrese Haliburton. The league’s assist champ departed in the third quarter of a Game 2 loss after re-injuring his left hamstring. He did not return.

Yet this Pacers team, largely composed of play-off newcomers or newcomers to high-profile post-season roles, has not blinked when others wrote them off – and they do not intend to start now with so much at stake this weekend.

“Our fans give us so much energy,” said Indiana forward Pascal Siakam, a mid-season acquisition from Toronto where he won an NBA title. “Obviously, for me, I’m experiencing for the first time the energy, and they’re so passionate about our team. We can’t wait to go out there Saturday and just the energy they’re going to bring to support us.”

Haliburton’s status could change everything. While the injury could dampen the mood in Indy, it won’t change the fact this will be the city’s biggest weekend in years.

The 108th running of the Indianapolis 500, the world’s largest single-day sporting event, expected to draw a crowd of nearly 300,000, is sandwiched in between today’s Game 3 and Monday’s Game 4.

Should rain force the race’s first postponement since 1997, it would be rescheduled for Monday – creating a wildly rare Pacers and racers Memorial Day doubleheader.

The conflagration of a show built for speed, like the Pacers, isn’t lost on these guys, most of whom are sharing Indy’s May stage with the IndyCar stars and the Colts, who have been holding off-season workouts in town. The only missing feature is Caitlin Clark, who is on a West Coast trip with the WNBA’s Indiana Fever.

But, make no mistake: The Pacers are eager to shake things up every bit as much as the Greatest Spectacle in Racing – with or without Haliburton.

“Like I said, losing sucks,” Pacers guard Andrew Nembhard said after playing four games in seven days in three cities. “It was a long road trip. I think it will be nice for all of us to get back in our own beds. We’re excited to play in front of our fans, and it’s going to be a big weekend with the race in there. So we can’t wait to get back on our home court.”

The Celtics, meanwhile, come to town with a different kind of advantage.

They won twice at Miami in the first round before returning home to close out the Heat in five games. Then, in the conference semi-finals, they won twice at Cleveland before eliminating the Cavaliers in five games. If they win the next two, Boston will be back in the NBA Finals for the second time in three years, courtesy of a conference finals sweep.