The Pacers stars need to be stars to win Game 6 over Knicks

The Pacers stars need to be on their A-game tomorrow
Mar 3, 2024; San Antonio, Texas, USA; Indiana Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton (0) passes to forward Pascal Siakam (43).
Mar 3, 2024; San Antonio, Texas, USA; Indiana Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton (0) passes to forward Pascal Siakam (43). / Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

INDIANAPOLIS — Much has been made of the New York Knicks physical style and their dominance on the glass during the postseason. Those traits and skills both have been vital for the Knicks as they lead 3-2 over Indiana in their second-round series. Yet for the Pacers to bounce back in Game 6 Friday night and salvage their season, it will be about their stars. They need to be great.

Tyrese Haliburton has been excellent for over half of the ongoing best-of-seven between Indiana and New York. He was one point shy of averaging 30 points and seven assists per game across Games 2, 3, and 4. But in Games 1 and 5 combined, he had 19 total points on 15 shot attempts — he took at least 15 shots in all three of the battles prior to Game 5.

Pascal Siakam, meanwhile, is averaging 19 points and 6.8 rebounds per game on good efficiency. Those are both solid numbers, but he hasn't had as many dominant performances as he did in the first round. Game 2 of Pacers-Knicks was Siakam's worst outing of the postseason so far.

Both players are terrific talents. Indiana wouldn't be where they are without them. Haliburton's brilliance earlier in this series guided the Pacers to a pair of victories at home. Siakam was incredible early in the team's first-round series against Milwaukee, and his best postseason outing coincided with Indiana's only road win in the playoffs.

Haliburton is averaging 18.5 points and 8.2 assists per game in the playoffs, Siakam is at 20.8 points and 7.9 rebounds. They both need to exceed that level of production for the rest of their series with New York if they want to reach the Eastern Conference Finals.

"We've got to be able to finish possessions better," Haliburton said of his team. Rebounding and physicality were two keys that he identified.

Indiana is 3-1 in this postseason when Haliburton reaches 20 points in a game. They're unbeaten in his three outings with 10+ assists. That all sounds obvious — when a strong ball handler is making shots or setting up his teammates effectively, his team wins. It all comes down to aggression, according to Haliburton.

When he gets into the paint with both feet, he's at his best. The Knicks try to keep him out by providing pressure and denying Haliburton the ball far from the basket. The two-time All-Star, and the rest of the Pacers, need to make sure they move the ball well, and that includes getting it back to Haliburton. He then needs to be aggressive with it.

"I've just got to be more aggressive early in the game," Haliburton explained. "I've just got to do a better job of adjusting that when need be... getting two feet in the paint, being more aggressive."

Siakam, meanwhile, is in a unique position right now. New York is starting small so that their offense can have more spacing and speed on the court, but it means they are giving up size in the frontcourt. Siakam, and sometimes Myles Turner, have a matchup advantage.

Indiana doesn't play well when they hunt mismatches and don't keep the ball moving. But if Siakam has a height advantage, keeping him involved offensively during Game 6 will be important. "I think it's not necessarily a size thing, I think it's just finishing possessions," Haliburton shared, adding it's not about Siakam but about the whole team. Siakam, meanwhile, thinks his spots are the same — he just needs to read the game against the smaller Knicks lineups.

Like with Haliburton, the Pacers are 3-1 when Siakam scores 20+ points in the postseason. He's had a few sensational rebounding games as well, and his defense has improved throughout the ongoing series. Beyond his stats, Siakam's ability to fill in at three different positions — he's spent time at the three, four, and five in the playoffs — has been vital.

He's a champion and has been a leader for the Pacers throughout the postseason. On Thursday after his team practiced, Siakam noted that elimination games require responding and playing harder. Now, with Indiana, he will hope to keep leading his younger team.

"We've got to play better. We've got to respond from the game we had," Siakam said Thursday. "We didn't play the way we're supposed to. We know we've got to play a lot harder and obviously desperate. That's the mindset."

The Pacers need to be better in many ways tomorrow night. They can't get bullied on the boards again. They will lose if the Knicks enforce their style. Should New York star Jalen Brunson get hot, the Pacers season might end. The blue and gold will try to combat those things.

For Indiana to have the best chance to win in Game 6, they need their stars to be stars. Haliburton and Siakam need to be at their best. If they can be, then this series could head back to Madison Square Garden for a Game 7.

  • Tyrese Haliburton delivers on his promise to lead Indiana Pacers past New York Knicks in Game 3. CLICK HERE.
  • Season-worst rebounding effort dooms Indiana Pacers in key Game 5 vs New York Knicks. CLICK HERE.
  • Indiana Pacers guard Andrew Nembhard hits game-winning shot vs New York Knicks by always looking ahead. CLICK HERE.
  • Indiana Pacers crushed on the glass in Game 5 loss vs New York Knicks, down 2-3 in series. CLICK HERE.
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Tony East


Tony East is the Publisher of AllPacers. He has previously written for Forbes Sports, the West Indianapolis Community News, WTHR, and more while hosting the Locked On Pacers podcast.