Haliburton goes off backboard for 'special' assist

NEW YORK — As Pascal Siakam watched Tyrese Haliburton make his latest game-breaking pass — this time by throwing the ball off the backboard to himself and then firing it out to his new All-Star teammate in the corner — there was only one thought crossing Siakam’s mind.

“Just make it,” Siakam told ESPN with a laugh inside Madison Square Garden’s visiting locker room following Indiana’s 125-111 victory over the New York Knicks on Saturday night.

Siakam did just that, burying a 3-pointer in the corner in front of New York’s bench with just under eight minutes to go in the third quarter, putting the Pacers up by eight and forcing a timeout from Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau.

It was just one of many highlights for the Pacers, who shot 61% from the field and went 14-for-29 from 3-point range as they claimed their third victory in their past four games.

There was only one play, however, that anyone was focused on afterward.

“One characteristic that all great players have is resourcefulness and the ability, in a split second, to invent something special,” Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said of Haliburton’s pass. “And he did just that.

“That’s a play that created momentum for us. And, if for some reason that possession was unsuccessful, it could have created a lot of momentum for the Knicks. The only word I can really say is just, it’s just special … just special stuff.”

For Haliburton, it was a special night on a few levels. He claimed his first victory at Madison Square Garden, something he was happy to remind everyone — including the locker room attendants — after the game. It also was the first game in which he has played at least 30 minutes since his latest return from a hamstring injury that has bothered him for the past month.

And, on top of it, he pulled off a new signature play, something he said he actually contemplated trying in the first half, before finding the chance to do it in the third quarter.

“I’ve never done that before,” Haliburton said with a smile after finishing with 22 points and 12 assists in 30 minutes. “You see so many guys in the NBA trying [to make plays off the backboard].

“I was going to try it in the first half, a little off the right slot, but it was kind of a weird angle. In transition, it just felt like there was a lot of room in the paint. So, yeah, just playing basketball, having fun.”

It’s hard not to have fun playing with Haliburton, who led the Pacers to the in-season tournament championship game and has them sitting in sixth place in the Eastern Conference. But Indiana is only one game ahead of the eighth-place Miami Heat in the standings, and tied in the loss column.

Part of the reason for that is Haliburton’s nagging hamstring injury, which has kept him from getting extended time playing with Siakam, who came to Indiana in a blockbuster trade last month from the Toronto Raptors. Siakam has quickly settled in as Indiana’s second option, and he had 19 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists against New York.

This was the eighth game the two stars have played together since the trade, though Haliburton has played in all eight under limited minutes because of his hamstring. And, as Siakam saw Saturday, one has to get accustomed to Haliburton’s level of creativity, and he’s still adjusting to it.

“We had a couple turnovers, him looking and looking me off and then I’m thinking he was doing something else and then he passes it,” Siakam said. “So I just got to like always be ready and we got to figure out rhythms. Him understanding my rhythms and me understanding also his rhythms. I definitely haven’t played with someone like him before, so I’m just learning on the fly and, and I think the more we’re out there we’ll get comfortable.”

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