As a Pacers fan for 12 years, I have watched this team go through many ups, downs, and everything in between. I have been through the Paul George era, the Victor Oladipo saga, and, of course, the Tyrese Haliburton experiment.
Through all these years, there is one thing I have never done, however: Go to a Pacers game. That changed on Tuesday, as I decided to catch the Pacers' third In-Season Tournament matchup against the Atlanta Hawks in person at State Farm Arena.
For starters, I was surprised at how many Pacers fans there were at the game, especially in my section. I saw quite a few prior to tipoff, as Aaron Nesmith took time to sign jerseys and cards. Luckily, my seat was next to two Pacers fans as well, who I had a great time with.
My night got off to a great start before the opening tip, as Myles Turner signed my hat, which I will never wear again. As a fan of Turner since he got drafted in 2015, this meant a lot and will most definitely be preserved for years to come.
The first half was very fun but also brutal. Indiana put up a lot of points, ending the first half with 73, but were somehow eclipsed by the 86-point Atlanta Hawks half, a new franchise record. The two teams combined for an insane 309 points.
Obi Toppin's poster dunk on Onyeka Okongwu was at least something to enjoy as Indiana failed to play defense, and Atlanta hit tough shot after tough shot.
The second half was when things picked up for the Pacers, and for me as well. Indiana rattled off an otherworldly 46-point third quarter, let by 26 points from Tyrese Haliburton, and with every shot that fell through the net, the Hawks crowd got quieter and quieter, and I got louder and louder.
To think, this was my first ever Pacers game.
Entering the fourth quarter, Indiana had a five-point lead, and the question was if they could keep the offensive barrage going long enough to win. They somehow did, as the Pacers scored 38 points in the fourth quarter, matching Atlanta's 38, and ultimately winning the game.
Buddy Hield was the hero of the fourth quarter, scoring 13 points and hitting three key three-pointers to keep Indiana going in a quarter where Tyrese Haliburton did not score. My reaction to the shot that put Indiana up by five for the rest of the game does not even come close to showing the emotions I was experiencing at the time.
Despite this shot, the Pacers were not done playing with my emotions just yet, as the final 30-second sequence of the game was truly nerve-wracking. Haliburton got stripped by Trae Young, but Dejounte Murray missed a layup on the other end, leading to a Pacers victory.
All in all, this was a fantastic first-game experience as a Pacers fan. Getting to witness perhaps the game of the year in person and getting a piece of memorabilia as a token cannot be beaten, and it was well worth the price of admission.
Best believe I have the January 12 Pacers/Hawks matchup circled on my calendar, and I will be at State Farm Arena no matter what.