The Indiana Pacers have officially made the In-Season Tournament finals by defeating the Milwaukee Bucks in thrilling fashion, capped off with a Tyrese Haliburton dagger and celebration for the ages. With this win, the Pacers will be facing LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers in the tournament finals on Saturday.
To many, this would be seen as a nice achievement in the first half of a grueling season, and not much stock would be put into it. However, the Pacers are not just any team.
So far, out of every NBA team, the Indiana Pacers may have been the biggest beneficiaries of the In-Season Tournament, as it has given fans a reason to invest in early regular season games, brought many exciting moments stretching back from the first game against Cleveland, and is giving the Pacers the most media attention they have had in years, spanning back to the Paul George era of 2012-2014 and the battles with the Miami Heat.
Tyrese Haliburton has perhaps been the most beneficent player of the In-Season Tournament. Before the games were nationally televised in the knockout rounds, Haliburton was quietly having a great outing against teams such as Philadelphia and Detroit and was putting up great statlines with little media attention aside from the occasional assist or deep three.
However, this has fully changed ever since the games became nationally televised. In the Boston Celtics game and now the Bucks game, Haliburton's abilities have been displayed for the NBA world, as he has dazzled fans and media members alike with his scoring and passing ability.
In some ways, the In-Season Tournament has helped fully stamp a legit NBA star, as more people are taking note of Haliburton and the Pacers day by day.
The Los Angeles Lakers could not be a better final opponent for Haliburton and the Pacers to face. Going back to 2012, LeBron James has played a part in dispatching the Indiana Pacers from the playoffs five times, and Pacers fans have grown to detest James for it.
In the 2022 NBA Draft, the Pacers selected Bennedict Mathurin, who immediately came out the gates swinging, issuing a challenge to LeBron and the Lakers that James would have to prove he was better than the youngster out of Montreal.
This was followed by one of the most exciting Pacers games in recent memory, as Indiana won off an Andrew Nembhard game-winner, and Mathurin outplayed James for the most part.
In some ways, the Pacers facing the Lakers of all teams in the finals feels poetic. These teams have history, as the Lakers got their first championship of the Kobe Bryant era off the Pacers in 2000, back when Indiana was led by Reggie Miller, who was on commentary for the Pacers advancing to the Tournament finals.
Lakers fans have also been very vocal about wanting certain Pacers players on the Lakers, specifically Myles Turner, whom they continue to put in trade packages even after he signed an extension in January of 2023.
Overall, Lakers fans seem to be the opposite of Pacers fans, as they are loud, boisterous, and fans of perhaps the biggest market in the league, apart from New York.
There is also the elephant in the room, which is LeBron James' history with the Pacers. As mentioned before, James has been one of the Pacers' biggest rivals for the past decade or so and has played the biggest part in taking the Pacers out of the playoffs, eliminating them five out of the last nine times the Pacers made the playoffs.
Paul George couldn't do it, Victor Oladipo couldn't do it, but maybe Tyrese Haliburton could be the guy for the job.
If Tyrese Haliburton manages to get a win over LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers in the finals of the inaugural In-Season Tournament with the national media on him and on the biggest stage of his career, there is no telling how far he can go in his career.
Already committed to being a Pacer for life and seemingly wanting to bring other stars to Indiana with him, Haliburton is nearing folk hero status in Indiana, and a win over one of their most hated rival players will go a long way in solidifying his status, as well as fully stamping the Pacers as the team of tomorrow, and maybe even today.