In Indianapolis on Wednesday night, All-Star guard Tyrese Haliburton was determined to prove that Indiana’s previous success against Milwaukee was no fluke. Demonstrating his prowess once again, the emerging young star contributed 31 points and 12 assists, playing a pivotal role in a 47-point third quarter that propelled the Pacers to a 142-130 victory over the Bucks, marking their fifth consecutive win.
Reflecting on the team’s performance, Haliburton emphasized the importance of maintaining competitiveness not only against formidable opponents like the Bucks but also in games against other teams.
“I think as a young group when you play good teams, you want to be as prepared for them as you can for them,” Haliburton remarked. “But I think part of the maturation of this group has to be to continue that competitiveness and being up for games that aren’t against the Bucks.”
The series this season has been notably one-sided. Just 48 hours after putting an end to Milwaukee’s 15-game home court winning streak, the team initiated the second half with a commanding 21-6 run, securing a lead they never relinquished and enhancing their record to 4-1.
Despite a strong performance from Giannis Antetokounmpo, who contributed 26 points, 11 rebounds, and eight assists, falling just shy of his fourth triple-double this season, the Bucks found themselves on the losing end once again.
Damian Lillard added 23 points and five assists, while Khris Middleton, dealing with a sprained right wrist and a sore right knee, managed to put up 19 points and seven assists.
For the Bucks, this series has been marked by frustration. The Central Division rivals have faced each other frequently, playing five times in the span of 54 days, including the In-Season Tournament semifinal in Las Vegas. Remarkably, four of these games have seen combined scoring totals of at least 247 points.
Expressing his perspective on the series, Lillard emphasized both the frustration and the determination to perform better against their opponents.
“I think the embarrassing part is that we’re just so much better than what we’ve shown in the games against them,” Lillard stated. “I also don’t look at it like ‘Oh, it’s just the regular season.’ We wanted to win these games.”
The series was defined not only by the final outcomes but also by the emotional and occasionally contentious moments that unfolded.
In December, a dispute over a missing game ball led to a peculiar postgame incident where Giannis Antetokounmpo sprinted toward the Indiana locker room. Bobby Portis of the Bucks was ejected from one game, and in Las Vegas, Tyrese Haliburton drew attention for imitating Damian Lillard by pointing toward his wrist after sinking a late 3-pointer as the Bucks faced elimination.
The final regular-season game in this series only intensified the rivalry. Indiana fans repeatedly counted the seconds it took Antetokounmpo to shoot free throws, resulting in a charged atmosphere.
The Milwaukee bench received a technical foul in the third quarter, and exchanges between Lillard and Bennedict Mathurin took place between the third and fourth quarters. Mathurin contributed 16 points.
The fourth quarter, marked by numerous fouls, featured a highlight when Pacers swingman Buddy Hield threw a pass off the backboard to Isaiah Jackson for a dunk, extending the lead to 118-100 with 9:41 to play.
Following a Milwaukee timeout, a hard foul on Antetokounmpo led to a gathering of players near the basket. After an official review for a hostile act, Milwaukee rookie Andre Jackson Jr. and Obi Toppin were both assessed technical fouls.
However, the pivotal factor in the game was Indiana’s explosive third-quarter performance. Although Milwaukee led 68-66 after a back-and-forth first half, the Pacers initiated the second half with a commanding 21-6 run, establishing a 113-97 lead after three quarters. From that point, the Bucks struggled to close the gap, and Indiana secured the win.
Reflecting on the victory, Tyrese Haliburton noted, “I would just say we did a good job of digging down and getting stops when we needed them. When we play in transition, we’re a really tough team to beat.”