Can We Slow Down Tyrese Haliburton & the Pacers?

‣ The Indiana Pacers currently lead the NBA in offensive rating with a score of 124.1, which is significantly above the NBA average of 114.7.
‣ Tyrese Haliburton is a key player in the Pacers’ success, averaging 26.9 points and 11.9 assists while maintaining a high shooting percentage.
‣ Despite their strong performance, the Pacers experienced a setback against the Orlando Magic, who held them to a significantly lower offensive rating and limited Haliburton’s effectiveness on the court.

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Here’s the skinny. The Indiana Pacers are on fire, folks. They’re leading the NBA in offensive rating at 124.1. That’s a whole three points ahead of the second-ranked Philadelphia 76ers, who are trailing at 121.1.

But wait, there’s a plot twist. On Nov. 19, the Orlando Magic managed to hold them to their second-worst mark of the season. The Pacers’ offensive rating fell to a dismal 98.7.

And here’s the kicker. That game was the only one this year where Tyrese Haliburton, the Pacers’ golden boy, recorded more turnovers (four) than assists (three).

The Pacers are rewriting the record books. Their offensive rating of 124.1 is a whopping 9.4 points above the NBA average. That’s the highest mark in Cleaning the Glass’ 21-season database, which goes back to 2003-2004.

Compared to the rest of the league, the Pacers are outperforming all the big names. We’re talking the 7 Seconds Or Less Phoenix Suns, the Stephen Curry–Kevin Durant Golden State Warriors, and the James Harden-led Houston Rockets.

And who’s behind all this? Tyrese Haliburton. The kid’s averaging 26.9 points and 11.9 assists, while shooting 59.6 percent on two-pointers, 44.7 percent beyond the arc, and 88.1 percent at the line. His 67.4 percent true shooting is usually reserved for the big guys and spot-up snipers. But nope, he’s doing it all.

But then came the Magic. They snuffed out the Pacers’ flame for one night. Two weeks ago, they beat the Pacers 128-116, in a game that the final score doesn’t fully reflect. The Pacers gave up 98.7 points per 100 possessions — their worst mark in the 17 games Haliburton has played.

Haliburton himself had a rough night. He posted season-lows in points (12), assists (three), and field goal percentage (28.6, 4-of-14 shooting). It was the only time he failed to log at least eight assists or an assist-to-turnover ratio above 2.5:1. Despite playing a season-low 25 minutes, his four turnovers were his second-most of the year.

So what’s the takeaway here? As the Pacers continue to dissect defenses, can we learn anything from Orlando’s strategy? Is there a way to slow Haliburton and his potent attack?

Most teams aren’t as tough as the Magic. They’re fourth in defensive rating and packed with top-tier stoppers. But their principles, and whether they’ll maintain them in a Dec. 23 rematch, are worth looking into.

The Pacers thrive in the half-court, but their fast tempo is key to their success. They quickly get into their sets and start moving the ball before defenses can get organized. This catches teams off guard and lets Haliburton create advantages without breaking a sweat.

They’re first in average time to shoot (10.9 seconds), sixth in transition rate (16.2 percent), and fifth in points per 100 transition possessions (132.9). But more importantly, they’re unmatched in pushing after a bucket, which their 29th-ranked defense often allows. Their average time to shoot after a make is 13.6 seconds, well above the second-place clip of 14.3 seconds.

But the Magic wouldn’t let them have those early offense chances. The Pacers’ 10.1 percent transition frequency marked a season-low, and their 100.0 points per 100 transition possessions was their fourth-worst number of the year. The Magic constantly picked up ball-handlers well before the three-point line and loaded two to the ball.

The Pacers are good at finding quick driving lanes against a scattered defense. But the Magic wouldn’t let them. Their blend of size and mobility caused many problems for Indiana’s free-flowing offense.

The Magic’s attention to detail was impressive. They sprinted back toward the paint while simultaneously locating an assignment. Their point-of-attack stoppers didn’t give opposing guards a free runway. The reality is that many defenses don’t approach the regular season with this level of focus. It’s mentally and physically draining. It’s easier to lock in for, say, 14 seconds than it is for a full 24.

The Pacers take advantage of that apathy, much like last year’s No. 1 offense, the Sacramento Kings, did. That’s not a slight to Indiana, Sacramento, or anyone else in the league. It’s just the nature of the regular season. But Orlando brought the necessary personnel, scheme, and vigor to limit what makes this offense so lethal.

This intensity and execution seemed to wear on Haliburton. In the second half, when Suggs was slightly late getting to him in the backcourt, he darted into a quick pull-up triple. Sure, it’s a good shot for a top shooter, but it also looks like one he rushed to launch, aware of the few opportunities Orlando and Suggs had provided.

One counter I expect to see more if Indiana encounters a similar strategy moving forward: starting Haliburton off the ball and setting a flare screen on his man if they shade help toward the initiator. It bore encouraging results a couple times in the second half against the Magic.

Not everything Orlando did revolved around bottling up Haliburton and the Pacers’ transition game. The half-court offense was sticky as well, which stemmed from prioritizing two key areas: dissuading his right-hand drives and containing the Spain pick-and-roll.

According to Synergy, since the start of 2022-23, Haliburton’s produced 148 points on 129 possessions (1.15 PPP) going right and 70 points on 70 possessions (1.00 PPP) going left. Now, he’s scored 27 points on 22 possessions (1.23 PPP) this season, but coaxing him left was absolutely a priority.

The tricky part is doing so can leave room for Haliburton to shuffle into his silky stepback three. He loves hoisting them going left; most shooters prefer stepbacks to their non-dominant side because it’s easier to stay on balance. Watch Derrick White — one of the NBA’s top perimeter defenders — shade Haliburton that direction and surrender a long ball.

This isn’t even poor defense from White. He contests the jumper pretty well. Haliburton’s just really, really good and saw enough daylight to be comfortable.

Behind Suggs, Harris, and Black, Orlando never allowed him to establish that comfort. He attempted just one pull-up three (shown a few paragraphs above) and three triples overall, none of which were stepbacks. The Magic sent him left, had the size to siphon off passing outlets, and the point-of-attack range to fluster his downhill endeavors.

Every NBA head coach instructs from the sideline mid-game, and Orlando head coach Jamahl Mosley might win the superlative for most vocal. Whenever his squad is defending, he is calling out “high hands,” “low man,” and other informative details. The players absolutely deserve the most credit for this fourth-ranked defense, but his communication is beneficial as well.

It was on display when Indiana dialed up a Spain pick-and-roll — one of its most fruitful, popular actions — late in the opening quarter. There’s a lot of noise in play, but listen closely to Mosley yelling “Stack! Stack!” from the other end of the floor in the first clip (Stack is another name for the Spain pick-and-roll).

Rarely did the Pacers fashion profitable options out of Spain pick-and-roll. They love springing Buddy Hield free for open threes or to attack closeouts. If he’s blanketed, a driving lane for Haliburton may materialize. If those aren’t available, the big could identify a crease inside and Haliburton wields the passing guile to feed him. None of those panned out. Hield was covered up, ball-handlers didn’t see space, and the rolls were junked up.

That’s a testament to the scouting, game-plan, and execution. With so many threatening parts to account for, slowing Indiana’s Spain pick-and-roll is tough, though it’s crucial for any successful showing defensively against this group.

Few teams have quelled Haliburton and the Pacers this year. None have given them the business like Orlando did two weeks ago. Not many tout the personnel and synergy to do so either. But any hope starts with crowding the ball on the break and having size on the backline; turning Haliburton into a left-handed driver; and precisely navigating their slippery Spain pick-and-roll.

One team’s done it. Everyone else has four more months to try and join that prestigious club.

James Shotwell
James Shotwell
James, a dedicated writer for BasketballHour, holds a degree in English and Creative Writing. A genuine sports enthusiast and skilled betting advice provider, he writes engaging articles and valuable winning strategies for sports.

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