Bona fide contender

Bona fide contender

Tyrese Haliburton stayed even keel in the aftermath of the Pacers’ bridesmaid finish at the In-Season Tournament (IST). True, disappointment was etched in his face as he looked back on their inability to claim the title; his confidence in their capacity to emerge from Las Vegas with an unbeaten record proved unfounded in the Lakers’ superior stand. On the other hand, there can be no denying the significant progress they made en route; they did beat such notables as the Sixers, Celtics, and Bucks en route, signaling to all and sundry their status as bona fide contenders. And as he reflected on their growth, he believed the best is yet to come.

Make no mistake. Haliburton was proud of the Pacers’ accomplishments in the IST. He announced his arrival as a superstar under the klieg lights, spearheading the high-octane offense of the blue and gold with ultra-efficient playmaking. Even as he beamed with pride at his body of work, however, he likewise couldn’t wait to get back to the grind of the regular season. And so he made sure to cite in his post-final presser that his focus would immediately turn to the next match. They had a day to rest before meeting the Pistons on the road.

Which, in a nutshell, was why the Pacers managed to take care of business yesterday. As head coach Rick Carlisle noted: “This is one of the most difficult games you can have, coming off the emotions of last week, the game on Saturday, the travel, and everything else. I just thought our guys did a great job of staying together, keeping their composure and their aggression.” On the court, Haliburton made sure they stayed sharp to counter the Pistons’  resolve to end a horrific losing streak. He didn’t particularly have a good shooting night, hitting only five of 12 shots. He wasn’t all that careful with the ball, either, winding up with seven turnovers. That said, he pushed the ball with the pace and purpose they needed to win.

Indeed, Haliburton is the Pacers’ engine, and they will ultimately go as far as he can take them. He makes them better than the sum of their parts. With their fourth straight victory, they’ve moved up to fifth in the East. And because they’re behind only the Magic and the three they beat in the IST, they know they possess the wherewithal to set up a deep playoff run.


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.