What Andrew Nembhard's star-making Game 3 performance means for the Pacers' future

Despite the Pacers' loss, Andrew Nembhard showed his skills on one of the biggest stages in the NBA.
Boston Celtics v Indiana Pacers - Game Three
Boston Celtics v Indiana Pacers - Game Three / Stacy Revere/GettyImages

The Indiana Pacers may be down 0-3 in the Eastern Conference Finals to the Boston Celtics, but that is certainly not Andrew Nembhard's fault. In fact, the Pacers have Nembhard to thank for even making the game competitive in the first place.

After Tyrese Haliburton was ruled out for Game 3 due to re-aggravating his strained left hamstring in Game 2, many thought the Pacers would just lie down for the Celtics in front of their home fans. After all, the team is statistically much worse without Haliburton, and they would be facing one of the best defenses in the league.

Apparently, someone forgot to tell Andrew Nembhard that, because he played like a superstar from buzzer to buzzer. In only his 159th NBA game and his 16th playoff game, Nembhard played like he has been here his whole life. Playing 39 minutes, Nembhard poured on 32 points on 21/21 shooting and 4/7 from deep, the most points he has scored in an NBA game yet, regular season or playoffs. Additionally, Nembhard did a solid job playmaking in Haliburton's absence, finishing with nine assists and only two turnovers.

Everything seemed to fall for Nembhard in Game 3, no matter what the shot was. He pulled up from deep with confidence and was rewarded with a swish. He drove to the basket with his head down and maneuver himself around bigger defenders or just threw up a floater over them. No matter the shot, it usually ended well for Nembhard on the night of May 25. Nembhard was the reason why the Pacers enjoyed as much as a 19-point lead at one point in the game, and, although they couldn't hold on, that is certainly not his fault.

This performance puts Nembhard and the Pacers in an interesting position going forward. With Bennedict Mathurin potentially taking up a starting spot next season after his return, the Pacers may need to decide between keeping Nembhard or Aaron Nesmith in the starting lineup.

After how he has performed these playoffs, from his heroics in the Bucks series to his miracle to keep the Pacers in the Knicks series to this game, Nembhard has probably solidified his spot in the backcourt alongside Tyrese Haliburton for next season. Whether or not Mathurin starts, Andrew Nembhard will most likely be the Pacers' starting shooting guard for next season.

That takes care of the situation next season. After that is when things get tricky. Nembhard has a team option for the 2025-26 season, which the Pacers will most likely accept, but will be a restricted free agent after that. The problem is, in 2026, the Pacers' salary books will look much different.

With Tyrese Haliburton's extension kicking in along with Pascal Siakam's new contract and perhaps more extensions for their core rotation, Indiana will be in a tough situation with Nembhard. With the new CBA coming into effect soon, it looks like the Pacers' only hope in keeping Nembhard around is by dipping into the luxury tax, an unfamiliar place for Indiana given how thrifty they have been for basically their entire team's history.

Thankfully, if reports are to be believed, the Pacers are more receptive to going into the luxury tax now than they were before, and they will do whatever possible to keep their rotation intact. Kevin Pritchard and company almost certainly knew what situation the Pacers' salary books would be in if Tyrese Haliburton's All-NBA bonus kicked in, and they will hopefully be well prepared for any scenario to keep the band together. Losing a player like Nembhard could spell trouble for Indiana, as he could be the starting point guard on a lot of teams and fits the profile of a potential Jalen Brunson-esque All-Star leap in the future.

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The Pacers struck gold in the second round of the 2022 NBA Draft with the selection of Nembhard at Pick 31, and now they must do whatever possible to keep him on the team. Andrew Nembhard has the makings of a great NBA player for a long, long time, and all the tools are in set for that career to be with the Pacers, provided they fork up the money.