Tyrese Haliburton’s brilliant fourth quarter helps surprise Pacers beat Clippers to fifth win in six games

Another game, another victory for the Red Hot Indiana Pacers, who continue to show that they have no desire to tank for Victor Wembanyama. On a New Year’s Eve matinee on Saturday, they outlasted the Los Angeles Clippers, 131-130, to claim their third straight win and fifth in their last six games.

Paul George had a season-high 45 points for the Clippers, and Kawhi Leonard added 24 points, five rebounds and seven assists in a strong all-around performance, but those two weren’t enough against a well-paced Pacers team. balanced that had seven players score at least nine points and shoot 52.3 percent from the field.

Myles Turner led the way for the Pacers in the scoring department with 34 points, but the main story of this game was Tyrese Haliburton’s superb fourth quarter. The third-year guard had another terrific game, finishing with 24 points, seven rebounds, 10 assists, zero turnovers and four steals for 8 of 13 from the field. Eighteen of those points came in the fourth quarter as he closed in on the duel against George and hit what turned out to be the game-sealing free throw.

After trailing by 14 points in the first half, the Clippers fought their way into the game thanks to George and Leonard, who took turns scoring everywhere. When they finally took the lead in the fourth quarter, conventional wisdom suggested they would step back into the stretch and show why they were one of the preseason title contenders in the Western Conference.

Haliburton had other ideas. A particular stretch in the final minutes, when he went blow for blow with George and scored 12 straight points for the Pacers, was a showcase for Haliburton’s offensive gifts. During that run, he had a 3-pointer off the dribble, a driving layup, a leaner turnaround in the lane and a handful of free throws. The Clippers had no answer for his speed and ability to get in the teeth of defense.

“Tyrese’s fourth quarter was monstrous,” Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle said. “Eighteen in the fourth, made just about every play you could imagine. Really stunning stuff to watch.”

While Haliburton has been great all season and is a top contender for Most Improved Player, the past few weeks have really been something. During that 5-1 streak – which includes wins over the Celtics, Cavaliers and Clippers – he had 27.3 points, 7.8 assists and 1.8 steals per game, while shooting 54, 8% from the field and 50% from a 3-point field. Along with his fourth quarter in that game, he had a career-high 43 points and the game-winning 3-pointer against the Heat on December 23.

“He’s a basketball-knowing type guy,” Carlisle said. “People like him, people like [Luka] Doncic, people like Reggie Miller, they feel when their time is coming. He’s resourceful and he finds ways to help our team get the ball in the basket. Sometimes it’s not him. Sometimes he makes the play that leads to the bucket or the pass that leads to the pass, but his will to win is spectacular for a young player. … It’s amazing to see him keep growing, growing, growing with every game.”

With Haliburton in the lead, the Pacers are now 20-17 and just three wins short of hitting the most for their total pre-season win projection of 22.5. They also sit alone in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, which as it stands would give them a guaranteed playoff spot for the first time since 2020. Not a bad way to head into 2023.

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