The Indiana Pacers’ improbable run through the inaugural NBA in-season tournament continues Thursday night when they attempt to take down the Eastern Conference’s top seed, the Milwaukee Bucks, in the semifinals at Las Vegas.
The New Orleans Pelicans will face the Los Angeles Lakers in the West semifinal later Thursday, with the two winners advancing to the tournament final on Saturday night.
The Pacers, who are the NBA’s highest scoring team at 128.4 points per game, have topped 120 points in all five of their tournament games, sweeping through their pool with four consecutive wins before eliminating the Boston Celtics 122-112 at home in the quarterfinals Monday.
Indiana bombarded the visiting Celtics with 19 makes from 3-point range, with Tyrese Haliburton (five), Buddy Hield (four) and Bennedict Mathurin (four) combining for more than the entire Boston team (12). The Pacers hit 47.5 percent (19-for-40) from beyond the arc.
Thursday’s game is a rematch of one of the NBA’s most entertaining regular-season contests to date, a 126-124 Pacers home win on Nov. 9 in which they overcame a 54-point performance by Milwaukee star Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Haliburton’s 3-pointer with 1:29 to play gave Indiana the lead for good.
Haliburton had a similar basket in Monday’s win over Boston, only in that one he was fouled while drilling a tiebreaking 3-pointer with 1:33 to go. He added a free throw to complete a four-point play, triggering a 17-7 flurry over the game’s final 93 seconds.
With an additional 10 rebounds and 13 assists in 40 minutes, Haliburton finished with his first career triple-double.
The fourth-year guard had 26 points in the win, giving him 140 in the tournament, second-most among all players behind Milwaukee’s Damian Lillard, who has 148. Antetokounmpo is tied for fifth with 137.
“We got to be ready to defend those guys,” said Lillard, who did not play in the earlier meeting. “They spread the floor, they get into the paint, they kick it out, they have a lot of shooters, they got a shooting big man. We going to have to be really sharp. It’s going to be a good game.”
The Bucks have had one less day of rest than the Pacers, earning a 146-122 quarterfinal home win over the New York Knicks on Tuesday. Antetokounmpo (35) and Lillard (28) combined for 63 points in the victory.
Both teams enter the game in relatively good health. The Pacers are currently without young forward Jalen Smith (bruised left knee, sore left heel), while the Bucks will be missing backup Jae Crowder (torn left adductor) and possibly Pat Connaughton (sprained right ankle).
Haliburton says being the underdog in Las Vegas won’t bother his team.
“(The Boston game felt) good to win, especially in a game where nobody expected us to. You don’t play on national TV if you don’t win games,” Haliburton said. “That’s all we’re about right now is changing how this organization is viewed and how we are, as players, viewed.”
Indiana, a 47-loss team a year ago, hasn’t made the NBA playoffs since 2020.