If when the NBA announced this new In Season Tournament idea you found yourself being someone who immediately shit all over it, please step right up.
You could not have been more wrong. Every step of the way, this thing has done nothing but deliver. The Group Stage games were awesome and competitive. The knockout round with a spot in Vegas on the line delivered. And now, after the Pacers punched their ticket to the Final by taking down the fully healthy Bucks in another thrilling 128-119 win, the Semifinals are delivering as well
Yes, we all know this is a "regular season game" but you are lying out of your ass if you watched this game and felt the exact same as any other regular season game on the schedule. It's the same, but different. The energy, the effort, the tense moments, it had about as close to a playoff feel as you can have while not actually being in the playoffs. The best part is this is how every game has felt.
Yesterday, I called the Pacers the IST team of destiny. There's just something about how they've approached this tournament right from the start that makes you happy for their success. Rick Carlisle came out right away and openly talked about how seriously they were going to take each game and how important something like this was for the development of their team and look at what the hell they just did!
When you go 4-0 through the Group stage and then take down the Celtics and Bucks, two teams most expect to be in/win the actual Finals in dominant fashion, that's a pretty big deal. Call it a regular season game if you want, the Pacers have now beaten the Bucks twice and are 1-1 with the Celts. They are proving that as long as they have Tyrese Haliburton they can give anyone the business, whether it's a rebuilding Pistons team or an NBA title favorite.
What Haliburton is doing right now isn't exactly "new" for those who watch him and the Pacers. He was doing this type of shit last year too before his injury and the Pacers were a 6 seed. But now finally on a larger stage, I'm not sure anyone in the league is taking advantage quite like Haliburton. This shit is just flat out insane
In a game with Giannis and Dame on the floor, it was Haliburton who was the game's best player for either side. The man just took down two giants while having 28 assists and 0 turnovers in his last two games. If you extend it one more, it's a 38:2 AST:TO run. That is RIDICULOUS. Not only that, but he's been efficient. A monster 55.6% vs BOS and another 57.9% today. When it came time for someone to make the plays down the stretch, guess who delivered?
Please read that tweet again.
A team like the Pacers making it through to the Final, taking down every contender they've seen is exactly why the IST is such an awesome idea. Even if they end up not winning it, you have to imagine the confidence they now have for the rest of the year is going to matter. Hell, maybe this is the springboard they needed to end up a top 4 seed (1 game out of 4th after tonight). If they can just figure out how to have around a league average defense, look the fuck out because through 20 games it's safe to say this offense is as legit as you'll find in the league. The Pacers didn't even shoot well from deep (7-33) and they STILL put up 128.
While Haliburton is the main focus, we also shouldn't ignore Myles Turner's huge 26/10 on 50% shooting or the fact that the bench production was a massive 43-13 difference in favor of IND. To drop 37 points in the final quarter to seal the win is exactly what they did in the last round, when they had 37 to close out the Celts. Hard to say the Pacers haven't earned every bit of this run.
Even if you think the league is now bummed they can't market Giannis/Dame, I see this as an opportunity to now push an awesome young up and coming team being led by an absolute stud at point guard. Hell, Haliburton might be the best guard in the East! That feels like something worth marketing in my humble opinion.
As I said the other day, I'm sticking with my pick of the Pacers to win the whole thing. I buy into the team of destiny idea, and nothing we've seen from the Pacers during this whole tournament suggests they aren't about to cap this off and win the 500k pot.
What a run, what a story.