2024 Playoffs: East First Round | Bucks (3) vs. Pacers (6)

Bucks-Pacers: 5 takeaways from 'insane' Game 3 overtime thriller

Khris Middleton goes from questionable to spectacular in Game 3, but Tyrese Halibuton delivers the overtime winner.

Tyrese Haliburton answers Khris Middleton's banked-in 3-pointer as the Pacers and Bucks trade clutch baskets in overtime.

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INDIANAPOLIS – The NBA already has its marketing campaign – “Playoff Mode: It’s a Thing” – for this postseason. But if the league needs a backup plan or wants to get a jump on 2025, Indiana coach Rick Carlisle has an idea ready to go.

“The playoffs are insane,” Carlisle said after his team outlasted Milwaukee in overtime Friday at Gainbridge Fieldhouse, 121-118. “Guys are going to pull other-worldly efforts out of their hearts and their guts.”

The Pacers coach added: “The details. The playoffs are so much about the details. We have to … understand these games are won and lost in the margins.”

That was especially true Friday, with the Pacers and Bucks cramming all 16 lead changes or ties into the final quarter plus overtime. Here are five takeaways from the fiercely fought Game 3, with Indiana now up 2-1:

1. No worries about Haliburton

Statistically, Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton took a step back over the season’s final three months. The unplanned splits he did against Boston on Jan. 8 put him in rehab for weeks and Haliburton returned without some of the explosiveness that earned him a starting role in the All-Star Game.

There was nothing wrong with Haliburton in this one, aside from a rough 8-for-22 shooting night. He played nearly 46 minutes, posted the second triple-double of his career and hit the winning bucket in the third postseason game he ever played. 

With 6.7 seconds left in OT, a camera captured the Pacers guard imploring his teammate to “win the game right now.” And that’s what happened: Haliburton took the inbounds pass deep in the backcourt so he had a proper runway toward the basket. He faked the Bucks’ Patrick Beverley to the outside, cut inside and pulled up just past the foul line to float his shot over Milwaukee’s leaping rookie, Andre Jackson Jr.

“I live for these moments,” Haliburton said. “That’s why I’m here.”

The kid from Oshkosh, Wis., beat his home state’s NBA franchise while putting up 18 points, 10 rebounds and 16 assists.

2. One endless possession

NBA overtime periods run five minutes. Which means more than a third of the OT played Friday – 102 seconds of 300, to be exact – was spent at one end, one trip downcourt that saw Indiana hoist six shots and grab five offensive rebounds.

“I’ve never seen that many offensive rebounds in a row,” Pacers center Myles Turner said. “I think that was actually insane.”

Carlisle said that an offense getting chance after chance, yet coming up empty, can “de-energize” a team. But imagine how the Bucks felt, digging down defensively only to have Andrew Nembhard or Aaron Nesmith grab another missed shot to extend the ordeal.

Indiana had 19 offensive rebounds in the game, turning them into 32 second-chance points. That helped make up for the early 19-point lead the Pacers squandered.

“They were coming from all over the place,” Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton said. “Point guards were crashing, wings were crashing, bigs were crashing [the glass].”

Khris Middleton finishes with a playoff-career high 42 points after missing practice Thursday because of a sprained right ankle.

3. Middleton: From questionable to spectacular

The Bucks’ veteran small forward turned his ankle early in Game 2 Tuesday and wasn’t taken off the injury report until after his pregame warmup test Friday. Then Middleton scored a personal playoff best of 42 points on 16-for-29 shooting.

He scored Milwaukee’s final 14 points, sent the game into overtime with a 3-pointer from the right wing that made it 111-111, and almost forced another five minutes by getting off another 3 past a lunging Turner with 6.7 seconds left in OT.

“I don’t know how to describe what he did out there,” Carlisle said, “the shots he was making with guys draped all over him.”

With Giannis Antetokounmpo (calf strain) still out and Damian Lillard hurting his knee and aggravating his Achilles tendon as the game played out, Middleton had limited help. Lillard shot 6-for-20, with 12 free throws, for his 28 points. The Bucks bench got outscored 28-6.

4. The Pacers wanted to foul – really, they did

Up three in the closing seconds of a game, many coaches will purposely foul the opponents, trading two free throws to avoid a dramatic game-tying 3-pointer. That’s what Indiana wanted to do with Middleton or Lillard, whichever one got the ball late in the fourth quarter and again in overtime.

Trouble was, the Pacers didn’t execute the strategy. It died on the drawing board.

“We did have a scenario to foul,” Carlisle said. “And we just didn’t do it. [Middleton] was so far out on the first one, we laid off and didn’t lunge at him. The second one was a similar situation.  

“I know that question will come up. It’s on me. I take responsibility for that.”

5. Limping through a difficult series

Lillard said he wrenched his knee in the first quarter when Indiana’s Pascal Siakam stepped on his foot. The Bucks guard fell to the floor and had trouble walking off.

In the fourth quarter, Lillard aggravated his aching Achilles injury that hampered him late this season. Said Bucks coach Doc Rivers: “In the overtime, he literally said, ‘I’ll be the decoy. I just can’t go as far as explosion.’”

Middleton was iffy until shortly before tipoff. And then there is Antetokounmpo, whose calf strain has sidelined for the past six games. The two-time MVP might be racing to beat the clock, his recovery lasting longer than the Wolves’ postseason.

“They’ve got Giannis sitting over there. At some point, it’s very likely we will see him. It could be on Sunday,” Carlisle said. “You bring him into the game, a Top 5 player in the world, all of a sudden in the middle of a playoff series.”

Or Antetokounmpo is ready to go in another week or so, by which time Milwaukee has run out of games.

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Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on X.

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