Backcourt shines

Backcourt shines

The Pacers and Bucks met yesterday for the first time since the Ballgate incident last month, and it was clear from the outset that they weren’t treating their fourth of five encounters for the season as simply any other game. True, claiming the series was on the minds of the blue and gold. And, true, staying near the top of East standings was paramount for the green and cream. That there was no love lost between them, however, ultimately made the set-to one of bragging rights — the best kind of motivation for players who have seen just about everything on the court.

When the battlesmoke cleared, Tyrese Haliburton deserved the game ball for yet another masterful performance that gave the Pacers the victory, and in front of a hostile crowd of 17,922 at the Fiserv Forum no less. Bent on making one last statement, though, he saw fit to hand the rock to referee Nick Buchert at the end of the match; never mind that teammates Bennedict Mathurin and Myles Turner seemed to want to take it with them. And he’s right; the rivalry needs to grow as a result of live-action developments, not of seeming pettiness.

If there’s anything the match showed, it’s that the Pacers may go only so far as Haliburton will take them, but he’s making sure they all do their part along the way. Six of them scored in double figures, the 19th time in their 2023-24 campaign that they managed the feat. And it’s no coincidence that they’re a heady 15-4 in the outings. Meanwhile, their much-maligned defense limited the vaunted Bucks to 44.1% shooting from the field. Damian Lillard proved particularly atrocious, making only three of 16 attempts.

The Bucks can still have the last laugh. They’re going up against the Pacers anew tomorrow in the second leg of a home-and-home affair. Unless they can replicate their effort last month, though, they will be hard-pressed to keep up with their high-octane opponents. They certainly cannot have their bench outscored 70 to 16, as it was yesterday. Else, the pressure to make up for the disparity would be too much for even Giannis Antetokounmpo and Lillard to bear.


Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and human resources management, corporate communications, and business development.