COBB: Haliburton’s injury, and how the Pacers will have to play on

Pacers star Tyrese Haliburton suffers Grade 1 left hamstring strain on Jan. 8 against the Celtics.

The Indiana Pacers' Tyrese Haliburton (0) grimaces after injuring his leg in the first half against the Boston Celtics at Gainbridge Fieldhouse on Jan. 8, 2024, in Indianapolis. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images/TNS)
The Indiana Pacers' Tyrese Haliburton (0) grimaces after injuring his leg in the first half against the Boston Celtics at Gainbridge Fieldhouse on Jan. 8, 2024, in Indianapolis. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images/TNS)

Derran Cobb is a third-year journalism major and writes for the Daily News. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the newspaper. 

While millions watched the University of Michigan defeat the University of Washington to win the NCAA Football National Championship in front of 72,808 fans in Houston, Indiana Pacer fans were otherwise occupied, holding their breath as they watched their star guard Tyrese Haliburton carried off the court by his teammates after a scary fall. 

During the second quarter of the second game in a back-to-back with the Boston Celtics, Haliburton’s right foot seemingly gave out from under him and slid, with his left foot still planted. He left the game, and after an MRI was done Tuesday morning, it was concluded that he suffered a Grade 1 left hamstring strain and likely will miss two weeks. 

Although Pacers fans can be slightly grateful for a less serious injury, the news is troubling when considering the immense impact Haliburton makes on the game. 

Averaging 23.6 points per game and a league-leading 12.5 assists, Haliburton is the focal point of the offense, and the Pacers were 7-19 without him last season. 

Right now the Pacers sit at 4th in a competitive Eastern Conference but hold the same record as the team behind them (New York Knicks), at 22-15. Over the two-week span Haliburton is projected to miss, Indiana plays around 10 games, depending on when he returns.

While the Pacers were able to pull off the thrilling 133-131 win over the Celtics the night of Haliburton’s injury, the question remains how will the team compete without Haliburton for full games. This season in games without him, Indiana is 2-2, with both losses coming from the number one seed in the East (Boston) and the number one seed in the West (Minnesota).

For fans and teammates alike, this situation is eerily similar to last season. Jan. 11, 2023, Haliburton left a game against the New York Knicks with an injury to his knee and elbow. Following his exit, Indiana lost nine straight and fell from playoff contention. 

However, this season’s team seems to be more equipped to handle the loss of their All-Star. Forward Aaron Nesmith said they have a stronger mentality this time around. 

"We have a really good next-man-up mentality especially because we're just so deep,” Nesmith told the Indianapolis Star. “Everyone on this team works hard, deserve[s] to play, and they always showcase what they're able to do when they get the chance. I think we'll be alright." 

This sentiment has validity, as the Pacers bench has regularly shown its depth this season, leading the league in bench scoring with 50 points per game. Additionally, eight  players are averaging double-figure point totals, tied for the most in the NBA with the Miami Heat.

While Haliburton is the league leader in assists, he is not the only Pacer distributing the rock. In fact, Indiana leads the league in team assists at 30.9 per game. However, someone has to step up and lead the team's scoring in Haliburton’s absence. Guard Bennedict Mathurin seems to be up to the task. 

After Haliburton exited the game, Mathurin led the Pacers in scoring, finishing with 26 points on 8/15 FG shooting and 5/9 from the perimeter. The former first-team All-Rookie member is averaging 14.7 points per game this season off the bench, and that number is expected to rise while Haliburton is out. Head coach Rick Carlisle expressed his faith in Mathurin’s skill set and growth. 

"He's one guy on our team that has the special ability to go get a shot any time he wants to," Carlisle said to the Indianapolis Star. "We have no one else on our team that can create that kind of a look and that kind of a foul situation. His abilities are special. He's growing more and more into the role.”

Mathurin just needs to remain consistent, something he has struggled with in his first two seasons.

In order to be successful in the next couple of weeks, the depth will need to be more present than ever, and Indiana needs to continue playing its brand of basketball to keep playoff hopes afloat. 

Contact Derran Cobb with comments at or on Twitter @Derran_cobb.


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