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NBA Playoffs Preview: Bucks vs Pacers

The Pacers and Bucks projects to be a competitive playoff series.

The Bucks vs Pacers will be taking place after the Bucks slipped to the third seed following a loss to the Orlando Magic on the final day of the season. These divisional rivals will be meeting for just the third time in the postseason and for the first time since 2000.

NBA Playoffs Preview: Bucks vs Pacers

Bucks vs Pacers: Circumstances and expectations

In the NBA, expectations are everything. Both teams head into this game in contrasting moods, in large part due to preseason expectations. When the Bucks traded for Damian Lillard in the offseason, they did so with championship-or-bust aspirations. Unfortunately, he has only shown flashes of the elite shot-maker he was with the Trail Blazers.

The Bucks as a team have been as inconsistent as their lead guard. The team has flattered to deceive at times. After finishing the season as the third seed with a 49-33 record, a casual onlooker will wonder why so many analysts, media members, and fans disapprove of this team.

As stated earlier, expectations are everything. Perception is also mixed in there. The Bucks, despite having a 30-13 record at the time, relieved Adrian Griffin of his head coach duties. His win percentage of .698 is the highest in the team’s history. The oft-maligned Doc Rivers was hired to replace him. His team crawled to a 17-19 record under him.

Compare that to the Pacers, who last appeared in the playoffs in 2020. Heading into the year, they were eager to be back playing April basketball and they could dream of it because of their budding superstar in Tyrese Haliburton. Rick Carlisle implemented a faster play style, and Indiana finished the season second in pace: 101.75.

Haliburton was given the keys to the engine (no pun intended), and he blossomed. As his point god status grew, the team became media darlings. While Haliburton made them intriguing, trading for Pascal Siakam mid-season made them competitive. From an analytics fever dream on steroids to a team to be taken seriously.

Rival (Family) Feud: Dame time, Game-ball Mystery, and Everything In-between

These teams would meet five times this year because of the In-season Tournament (IST). Interestingly, the Pacers would go on to reach the finals of the IST where they would lose to the Lakers. The first game of the season ended in a Pacers win after the Bucks blew a 20-point lead. Giannis Antetokounmpo dropped 54 points, and Adrian Griffin got ejected. The competitiveness of this game would set the tone for the season series.

Things got extra spicy when these teams met in the semifinals of the IST in Las Vegas. The Bucks blew another lead thanks to a stunning Haliburton-led comeback. As he hit a three late in the game, he would break out the famous ‘Dame time’ celebration. Lillard took it in stride.

Somehow when these teams met a week later, the contest was even spicier. Giannis would break career and franchise records. The game would have a flagrant foul, multiple technical fouls, and a game-ball mystery. After scoring 64, Giannis would go searching for the game ball after the final buzzer. A misunderstanding would ensue. Video footage would later show a Bucks staff member collecting the ball while the ball with the Pacers was a reserve ball for their rookie Oscar Tshiebwe.

These teams would meet for the third time amid comments in the media from both teams. Some Bucks players would say they got the upper hand in the previous game due to a more physical approach. The Pacers heard it all and took it to heart as they pulled off another comeback for their third win of the season against the Pacers. Haliburton would sound off on the physicality talk.

The final meeting will prove to be the most uncompetitive as the Pacers would record an 18-point win. Two days later, Malik Beasley of the Bucks would predict a playoff meeting in an interview with Chris Haynes. He would promise revenge and here we are now.

Offense, Offense, Offense, and Maybe a Little Defense

These teams finished the year in the top six in the NBA in offensive rating. Both averaged at least 119 points per game. They did so differently. While the Pacers have a more drive-and-kick approach mixed with some cutting and pick-n-roll actions, the Bucks have mostly relied on the sheer talent of their best players.

Both teams finished the year in the bottom half of the league in defensive rating. The Bucks started the year poorly, struggling to adapt to Adrian Griffin’s defensive schemes. They would improve a lot under Doc Rivers. The roster has inherent flaws that schemes can mask but not solve.

“The best defense is offense” the Pacers have embraced this mentally wholeheartedly. At some point during the year, they tweaked their philosophy slightly. Instead of playing defense throughout the game, they focus on getting stops in the fourth quarter. They have such a reliable offense that they pull it off. While they average 28.9 opponents points in the fourth quarter (25th in the NBA), they have a point differential of 65 in that time frame, good for the 5th best in the NBA.


A major factor for the Bucks will be the health of Giannis. He’s known to recover from injuries quickly due to his unique durability. Unfortunately, he’s dealing with a calf injury, which is notorious for taking at least three weeks to resolve. So he could miss games early on in this series even if he recovers quickly. The Bucks posted a 4-5 record in games without him.

It’s hard for one player to stop Giannis, but Myles Turner will be tasked with being his primary cover. Aaron Nesmith will be tasked with playing point-of-attack defense on Damian Lillard. Patrick Beverley will be tasked with being a thorn in Haliburton’s side.

Last Word

This series promises to be a competitive one. The Pacers have shown that they have figured out the Bucks all year. I’ll take the Pacers to win in seven.


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