Having surprised both 2022 NBA finalists in the past nine days, the Indiana Pacers will go for a heavyweight hat trick when they visit last year’s Eastern Conference regular-season champs, the Miami Heat, on Friday night.
Inspired by a last-second miss — and the surprising reaction to it — in a three-point loss to the New York Knicks on Sunday, Tyrese Haliburton came up big with 33 points in Wednesday’s 117-112 road shocker over the Boston Celtics.
The young star found himself spending more time Wednesday responding to some negative comments by Knicks analyst Wally Szczerbiak than his stardom against the Celtics.
“He had a lot to say about me,” Haliburton said after hearing Szczerbiak insist that the Knicks had two players — Julius Randle and Jalen Brunson — who would make the All-Star team ahead of him.
“I was really questioning, first, ‘Who is this and why is he talking about me like this?’ I don’t know if I ever came out and said, ‘I wanna be an All-Star, please vote for me.’ I don’t think I’ve done that. I think he was just excited about a Knicks win and that got him going. He’s just doing whatever he can to get attention. That’s just the media these days.”
Haliburton and his teammates changed the narrative of Thursday’s news stories by taking down a second power in four games.
Their 125-119 triumph over the visiting Golden State Warriors on Dec. 14 began a stretch that not only featured the two eye-catching wins but also saw them play competitive ball against two of the East’s other top teams — the Cleveland Cavaliers and Knicks — in between.
Led by Haliburton’s 23.5 points per game, Bennedict Mathurin’s 17.0 ppg and the combined 23-for-47 3-point shooting of Buddy Hield and Aaron Nesmith, the Pacers have shot 48.2 percent from the field and 38.2 percent on 3-pointers over the 2-2 stretch. They’ve also been aided by 27.8 assists per game.
Continuing the torrid pace against the defensive-minded Heat will be a tough task. Miami held Haliburton without a field goal in nine attempts in an 87-82 win at Indiana on Dec. 12.
That tipped off a four-game winning streak — the club’s longest of the season — before a 113-103 loss to the Chicago Bulls opened a four-game homestand on Tuesday.
Like Haliburton against the Celtics, the Heat appear to have been motivated by recent negative comments. Only in their case, they came from one of their own, star Jimmy Butler.
Following an embarrassing 115-111 loss to the Spurs that capped the Heat’s previous homestand two weeks ago, Butler said, “We ain’t that good. We can’t afford to play a 45-minute game or 47-minute game. We need all 48.”
Miami has won four of five since, including 111-101 in a rematch at San Antonio last Saturday.
Butler, who has scored 20 or more points in each of his last five games, missed the Chicago loss with an illness. He contributed 20 points, seven rebounds, five assists and two steals to the win at Indiana last week.
–Field Level Media