Know Your Enemy: Getting to know the Milwaukee Bucks' first-round playoff opponent

Milwaukee and Indiana are drumming up a new rivalry
Milwaukee Bucks v Indiana Pacers
Milwaukee Bucks v Indiana Pacers / Andy Lyons/GettyImages

The Milwaukee Bucks finished the NBA regular season with a 49-33 record. Right on their heels were the Indiana Pacers at 47-35. These teams played five times during the regular season and a new rivalry is brewing.

It stands to reason from regular season records alone that this series should be close. 

Do you remember when we had “game-ball gate” when Giannis Antetokounmpo set the franchise single-game scoring record with 64 points, and then Indiana allegedly stole the ball to mess with the Bucks?

Or do you remember the time when Tyrese Haliburton hit a three and started flashing the “Dame Time” signal at the Milwaukee Bucks' bench? How about that crazy-looking floor the teams played on in Las Vegas for the inaugural NBA In-Season Tournament? Something is brewing.

This new rivalry is good for both teams. Chicago and Detroit are pretty down right now, even though Chicago did have an electric win in the NBA Play-In Tournament. Who knows what is going on in Cleveland? The Cavaliers had an epic fade to close out the NBA regular season, losing six of 10. 

It looks like Bucks fans will have a good, new challenger for the foreseeable future. Let’s learn more about Indiana.

The Milwaukee Bucks' opponent: The Indiana Pacers

Rick Carlisle is an NBA veteran coach who radically changed the Pacer’s culture. He also seems to be in “win at all costs mode." Hence the "game-ball gate."

The 64-year-old has been an NBA Head Coach four times; twice for Indiana (2003-2007, and 2021- present). That happens in the NBA, being a head coach twice for the same franchise, but it certainly is not common. 

Over his career, he has coached in 1,771 NBA games and is 943-828. Carlisle has a reputation for helping to “mold players,” and that could not be any more evident than with the growth of Tyrese Haliburton. 

What has really propelled this franchise forward is one big trade! It now appears the Pacers have clearly won the Domantas Sabonis for Haliburton trade. Haliburton is beginning to blossom into a star. Tyrese Haliburton, acquired with Buddy Hield for Domantas Sabonis of the Sacramento Kings, has started to become an NBA superstar.  He leads the team in scoring 20.1 points per game. 

Haliburton also led the entire NBA in assists with 10.9 per game.

Halliburton, who was born in Oshkosh and attended Oshkosh North High School, was drafted 12th by the Kings in the 2020 draft. 

Myles Turner is an NBA cheat code when it comes to blocked shots per game. Right now, he is averaging 1.9 blocks per game, slightly below his career average. But Turner can alter people’s shots, a big redeeming quality of the Pacers' defense.

That is, maybe the one spot Milwaukee truly could exploit Indiana - they don’t have a ton of size. 

At the power forward position for the Pacers is mid-season acquisition Pascal Siakam. Depending on whose metrics you follow, he is the actual scoring leader on the team, averaging 21.3 points per game. Siakam is only 6-foot-8, but he can move and is a very fluid player. When you look at the film on him he scores by attacking the basket. He does not tend to take a ton of 3-point shots and scores by dunking. 

Siakam is great at setting screens and running off screens. That has made him a great fit with Tyrese Haliburton. 

Benedict Mathurin is out for the season with a torn labrum in his shoulder. In his place, Andrew Nembhard has played some meaningful minutes. More of a “second point guard,” Nembhard was also a late round draft pick, similar to Mathurin. Again, with all of this, Rick Carlisle has proven his worth and someone who develops basketball players. 

Speaking of development, starting small forward Aaron Nesmith has developed into a “gadget” guy who can do all of the little things it takes to win: track down loose balls, block a shot, guard: he will be a “secret weapon” for the Pacers.

The “not so secret weapon” for the Pacers is Bucks killer T.J. McConnell (Even though he has played much better against the Heat and Rockets). Sometimes you just play well against another team. McConnell got better as the season wore on, starting off November playing 14 minutes a game and averaging six points. In April, he was up to 20 minutes per game and averaging 15 points.

Obi Toppin is another name that comes up quite a bit when you scout this Pacers team. Versus the Bucks this season, Toppin played 22 minutes a game and averaged over 10 points. He also tends to play better on the road as his scoring, rebounding, steals, and personal fouls averages all go up. It stands to reason he might just like to play a little more aggressively away from home.