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How Pacers, Tyrese Haliburton threw away Game 1 vs. Celtics with uncharacteristic turnovers

The ball slipped away from the Pacers on Tuesday, and so did the chance for a Game 1 upset


  • May 22 2024
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 How Pacers, Tyrese Haliburton threw away Game 1 vs. Celtics with uncharacteristic turnovers
How Pacers, Tyrese Haliburton threw away Game 1 vs. Celtics with uncharacteristic turnovers
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The Indiana Pacers shot the ball better than the Boston Celtics in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals. They dished eight more assists than Boston and got 17 more bench points and a slightly higher offensive rebound percentage. They had a five-point lead with less than two minutes left in the fourth quarter, and they had a three-point lead plus possession of the ball with 10 seconds left. Despite all of this, they have found themselves down 1-0 in the series following a 133-128 overtime loss at TD Garden on Tuesday.

"A lot of things had to go wrong for us and right for them," Indiana coach Rick Carlisle told reporters. "They did. And so we gotta own it. And we gotta get ready for Thursday."

Carlisle blamed himself for the outcome, pointing specifically to his decision not to call timeout with 10 seconds left in regulation. "This loss is totally on me," Carlisle said. The Celtics had taken their foul to give, and would have had to put a Pacer on the free-throw line if they weren't able to force a turnover on this inbounds play:

"We should've just taken the timeout, advanced the ball and found a way to get it in and made a free throw or two and ended the game," Carlisle said. "But it didn't happen, and we made some other mistakes."

Indiana had 21 turnovers, which means the team coughed up the ball up on 19.8% of its offensive possessions. In the fourth quarter, that turnover rate was 27.3%. Seventeen seconds before the botched inbounds pass (which led to Jaylen Brown's game-tying 3-pointer), Pacers star Tyrese Haliburton committed an unforced turnover, losing the ball as he crossed halfcourt in transition. Later, down by one point in overtime, Haliburton lost it out of bounds again. In his view, his sloppiness is why they lost, not Carlisle's choice not to advance the ball.

"That's not on him," Haliburton told reporters. "Us as players, we gotta do a better job. I had two bad turnovers that I feel like cost us the game, one in the fourth and one in overtime. I know, I understand he's protecting us, protecting me as well, but I'll take that more than he should. I gotta be better and I will be better in Game 2 and we'll respond the right way."

Haliburton did not have an explanation for the turnover late in the fourth. "I don't know what happened, he said. 

"It's frustrating because it's not something that happens normally for me. But nobody forced it, I just dribbled the ball off my foot."

And while he said that Jrue Holiday has been "the best defender in the NBA" and "has been for some time," Haliburton saw the turnover in overtime as another self-inflicted wound: "I was trying to get him as far to the left wing as I could so i could come downhill to the right. And I had the spin to set it up, and I just dribbled it off my foot. So it's unfortunate, it's frustrating for sure, but it happens."

This was not the first time that Indiana has gotten in its own way during the playoffs, but, it's anything but typical. The series opener was the Pacers' 97th game of the season, including the In-Season Tournament final, and they've only had a higher turnover rate twice. And unlike Game 5 against the New York Knicks, this wasn't a blowout. It was a golden opportunity, squandered. 

"We had a lot of turnovers that would be hard to explain," Carlisle said. 

"I think they're a great defensive team, they got great defenders -- individual and team defenders -- but they're not a team who forces a ton of turnovers," Haliburton said. "They're a solid team. I just felt like more of them were probably on us than them."

On the game's very first possession, Indiana wing Aaron Nesmith turned the ball over trying to feed Pascal Siakam in the post, one of his five turnovers on the night, and Brown dunked it on a fast break moments later. Haliburton threw a no-look pass in the middle of the first quarter that landed in the first row. Obi Toppin got called for three seconds in the key trying to post up Payton Pritchard after a switch in the fourth quarter, and a few possessions later lost the ball trying to make a move against Jayson Tatum one-on-one. Down by four with less than 40 seconds left in overtime, Siakam went to his spin move and Brown ripped the ball away. 

"We made mistakes," Carlisle said, understating the issue. He also said, though, that the Pacers "did a lot of good things" and he loved the way that they fought. 

Turnovers were not the only issue: Indiana committed 23 fouls and the Celtics attempted 30 free throws (to the Pacers' 10). And on Indiana's last play of regulation, Haliburton could have taken a deep 3 as soon as he caught the inbounds pass, rather than putting the ball on the floor. "That was probably the look for me to shoot," Haliburton said, but instead he ended up taking a heavily contested desperation shot at the buzzer.

Given that Indiana entered the series an extreme underdog, it could be seen as encouraging that the game was close enough that it could slip away. Carlisle described the Pacers as "a tough-minded, resilient team," which was evident in the way that they bounced back from heartbreaking losses in the first two games of their second-round series in New York. If this one feels more brutal though, it's because the opponent is much stronger and, for a conference finals game, there were a ton of bad decisions on both sides. It's unclear how many more chances like this they'll get.

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