Haliburton drops stinker as Pacers suffer momentum-crushing loss to Raptors

Tyrese Haliburton struggled mightily in the Indiana Pacers' brutal loss to the Toronto Raptors.

Indiana Pacers, Toronto Raptors, Tyrese Haliburton, Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam, Bennedict Mathurin
Indiana Pacers, Toronto Raptors, Tyrese Haliburton, Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam, Bennedict Mathurin / Andy Lyons/GettyImages

The Indiana Pacers have just received their first loss of the post-All-Star break run against the lowly Toronto Raptors, and this one perhaps exhibited everything wrong with Indiana so far this season.

After keeping pace with the Raptors for the first half and keeping the game within striking distance, even taking a lead a few times and exchanging one-point leads in the fourth quarter, Indiana allowed Toronto to take control in the closing minutes and finish with the 130-122 win.

Despite Bennedict Mathurin matching his career-high with 34 points and Pascal Siakam adding 27 to combine for 61 points between the two, the Pacers were not able to get it done, in part because of the Tyrese Halbirtuon of all people, who turned in perhaps one of his worst performances in a Pacers uniform, only scoring nine points on 2/11 shooting and dishing out seven assists.

Despite the Pacers keeping solid momentum throughout the game, they were no match for Toronto's inside presence. In particular, Jakob Poeltl torched them in the first half, scoring 13 points and grabbing eight rebounds to make up plenty of Toronto's staggering 78 points in the paint compared to Indiana's 50.

Despite the staggering paint differential, Indiana was still up by one point with 8:35 left in the game. That's when Tyrese Haliburton and the rest of the starters checked in. Now, you'd think this would be a good thing. After all, the bench got the team back into it. Now it's time for the starters to finish the job. Unfortunately not.

After the substitution, Indiana immediately allowed a 9-1 run by Toronto to increase the lead to eight and called timeout. This timeout would only barely help things, as Haliburton sucked all the momentum out of the arena after missing two free throws in a row, a rarity for him, and following that up with a missed three-pointer to try and counter Gradey Dick's three the previous possession.

Despite building up momentum, despite Mathurin and Siakam having fantastic individual nights, the Pacers could not get that last push they were looking for from the starters and ultimately fell to the inferior Raptors, who themselves have just gotten their first three-game winning streak of their season.

This loss just put Indiana in the worst-case scenario for what they are looking for. Originally an entire game above Miami and Orlando in the standings, thanks to Sunday's win over Dallas and Orlando losing to Atlanta, the Pacers are now far from that, as instead of fighting over the fifth seed with the Philadelphia 76ers, with whom they were only half a game behind prior to Monday, the Pacers now find themselves as the seventh seed with a currently lost tiebreaker to the Heat after their win over Sacramento that same night.

The Pacers need to build momentum fast. What was at first seen as a huge opportunity to create separation from the Magic and Heat has now turned into a need to escape play-in purgatory altogether, as Indiana finds themselves looking at a must-win matchup against the Pelicans on ESPN, who will thankfully be coming off a back-to-back of their own following a Knicks matchup on Tuesday.

Sadly, this has been the story of the Pacers season so far. High hopes are brought up by solid play, only for those hopes to be crushed in the most devastating way possible, usually for reasons brought on by the team's play itself.

It doesn't help that Detroit could not help Indiana's standings chances, instead losing to New York after a bogus no-call on Donte DiVincenzo in the final stages made way for a Knicks win.

If they want any chance of avoiding the play-in and a possible Boston Celtics matchup, the Pacers will have to put everything together sooner rather than later and build up a winning streak.

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Otherwise, they will be headed straight to single-elimination playoff-like games in which, considering their track record against worse teams, their fate is not certain.