NBA: Pacers, without Tyrese Haliburton, bank on home court vs. Celtics in Game 3

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The Indiana Pacers have an unblemished 6-0 home record during the NBA playoffs, but another obstacle has emerged.

Not only do the Pacers trail the Boston Celtics 2-0 in the Eastern Conference finals, but Indiana won’t have the services of star point guard Tyrese Haliburton for Saturday’s pivotal Game 3 in Indianapolis.

Haliburton injured his left hamstring during the second quarter of Thursday’s 126-110 loss in Game 2 and exited for good late in the third quarter. The team initially listed him as questionable for Saturday’s contest before later ruling him out.

“He very much wants to play, desperately wants to play,” Indiana coach Rick Carlisle said about 90 minutes before tipoff. “But the decision on tonight was taken out of his hands earlier in the day. It was determined tonight was not an option. He is feeling better and we’ll see where he is on Monday.”

The Pacers were hoping to have the All-NBA third-team selection but they also were realistic. Haliburton suffered a similar injury earlier this season — Jan. 8, also against Boston — and missed 10 of the next 11 games. Indiana went 6-4 without him.

The stakes are certainly higher now with the Pacers hoping to avoid a 3-0 deficit.

“That’s a time for this group for everyone to step up and take a bigger role,” said Indiana guard T.J. McConnell, who will have a bigger role with Haliburton sidelined.

“We’ve done a good job of that when he’s been out. It hurts when he goes down, but one of those things where it’s the ‘next man up’ mentality. Obviously, we’ll see.”

Haliburton had 25 points and 10 assists when the Pacers put up a huge fight in Game 1 before falling 133-128 in overtime. He had 10 points and eight assists in Game 2 when Boston’s Jaylen Brown stole the show by matching his personal playoff career best of 40 points.

Despite the 2-0 hole and the possibility that their top player could be done for the series, the Pacers point to their home-court advantage as the reason they can still win the seven-game set.

Indiana has won 11 straight at home dating to a regular-season loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on March 18.

“I think we have the guys to understand how hard it is to win, and we know that we can bounce back,” Pacers forward Pascal Siakam said. “We’ve done it all year, and it’s time to dig deep and just go out there and compete at the highest level in front of our fans.”

Brown was certainly competing at a high level when he made four 3-pointers and was 14 of 27 from the field in Game 2.

His big outing came one night after he was snubbed when the All-NBA team was announced. Brown had been a second-team pick in 2022-23 but didn’t land one of the 15 spots this season.

“I think he cares about it in a way that motivates him, and I think he doesn’t really care about it at all,” Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said. “He understands that winning is the most important thing. He just cares about the right stuff.”

Brown denied that missing out on the honor served as motivation in Game 2.

“I mean, we’re two games from the Finals,” Brown said. “So honestly, I don’t got the time to give a (expletive).”

Though Jayson Tatum and Derrick White added 23 points apiece, Thursday night was Brown’s show.

“I mean, he has it going,” said Boston guard Jrue Holiday, who is battling an illness. “Y’all see what I see. Great player, great leader, but wants to win. And takes things into his own hands.

“So I’m glad to have him on my side. I ride with him. The way JB’s been playing, man, it’s outstanding.”

Brown averaged 33 points in the two games in Boston but the task figures to get tougher during a huge sports weekend in Indianapolis.

The Celtics and Pacers play Game 4 on Monday and the famous Indianapolis 500 auto race will be held Sunday on the day between games.

“I know that our building will be as loud and live as it’s ever been,” Carlisle said. “It’s race weekend and everything else going on. We’ve got to take advantage of that.”

Boston big man Kristaps Porzingis (calf) will miss his ninth straight game.

–Field Level Media

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