Pacers could be without star Tyrese Haliburton as series vs. Celtics shifts to Indiana

The Indiana Pacers suffered a potentially devastating blow to their championship hopes on Thursday night, as star guard Tyrese Haliburton left with 3:44 remaining in the third quarter because of a sore left hamstring and did not return.

The Boston Celtics went on to win 126-110 in Game 2 and took a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals. The series shifts to Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis on Saturday, and although Haliburton’s status remains in the air, his teammates must be prepared to step up in his absence.

Haliburton, who was just named to the All-NBA Third Team, missed 10 games because of a left hamstring injury during the regular season. However, the Pacers managed to stay afloat during that stretch with a 6-4 record.

“We’ve done a good job of that when he’s been out,” Pacers guard T.J. McConnell said. “It hurts when he goes down, but one of those things where it’s the ‘next man up’ mentality. Obviously, we’ll see. We haven’t heard anything yet, but guys will just have to step up and be ready.”

Haliburton also underwent X-rays on his chest during halftime of Game 2, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic. He finished with 10 points on 4-of-8 shooting and eight assists.

“He was sore at halftime,” Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle said. “He was getting work done for the entirety of halftime. He came out, gave it a shot and all the effort that he could. I haven’t talked about it directly to him, so I can’t read minds, but it wasn’t going well. The trainers determined he had to be brought to the back to be worked on, and then he was ruled out.”

Haliburton’s importance to this Pacers team cannot be overstated. He averaged 21.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and 7.0 assists in the team’s second-round series against the Knicks and logged 25 points and 10 assists on Tuesday in Game 1.

As McConnell told reporters after Game 2, a potential extended absence for Haliburton would demand better offensive execution for the Pacers. Greater ball movement would be needed across the board in order to create paint touches and get others involved at that end of the court, and Haliburton’s contributions in that regard are not easy to replicate.

Indiana was outscored by 17 points with Haliburton off the court on Thursday. The Pacers finished with 23 assists on 44 made field goals on a night where the team shot 52.4% from the field. So, perhaps defense should be the team’s biggest worry entering Game 3, given the Celtics shot 53.4% from the field in Game 2.

Five Celtics finished in double figures, led by Jaylen Brown, who poured in a game-high 40 points on 14-of-27 shooting. Jayson Tatum had 23 points on a 9-of-20 clip.

“Obviously we need Ty, but at the end of the day it’s a next-man-up mentality,” Pacers forward Pascal Siakam said. “We have to be ready, and we have to play together. This team got to where it is today by having all of us and we all have to stay together, continue to play together, and obviously we want to get Tyrese back out there, but obviously he wasn’t feeling well, so it’s on us to continue to play and bring that energy.”