Can the Bucks slow the Pacers' Tyrese Haliburton? They have their work cut out for them (2024)

Milwaukee Bucks guard Patrick Beverley is seemingly not afraid of any challenge. In many cases, Beverley isn’t too worried about letting his opponents know about it.

But as the Bucks prepare to try to slow Tyrese Haliburton, the Indiana Pacers’ 24-year-old All-Star point guard, Beverley had little interest in giving Haliburton any extra motivation.


“Obviously, you can’t take anything away from him,” Beverley said. “Especially me, I’m not giving anybody any type of bulletin press going in, but, his pace is elite, up there with the best of them. So you’re not going to have it perfect all the time, but your job is just to make it hard as possible for him.”

This season, Haliburton has been one of the NBA’s toughest players to defend. In his fourth NBA season, serving as the engine of the Pacers’ offensive attack under head coach Rick Carlisle, Haliburton averaged 20.1 points per game, as well as a league-leading 10.9 assists per game. In five match-ups against the Bucks this season, Haliburton was even better than that, putting up 27 points, 5.8 rebounds and 11 assists per game.

All season long, the Bucks have struggled against elite guards. And that didn’t change against Haliburton, who took advantage of the Bucks’ struggles at the point of attack and then picked apart the various coverages the Bucks threw at him once he had already put them off balance with his mix of scoring and playmaking.

If the Bucks are going to have a chance against the Pacers, they are going to have to put together a cohesive plan to slow Haliburton.

And that plan might start with something Beverley did before he joined the Bucks.

On Nov. 14, the 76ers lost 132-126 to the Pacers in an In-Season Tournament group play game and Haliburton put up 33 points and 15 assists in the win, but Beverley was given the responsibility of guarding Haliburton to end the third quarter and start the fourth quarter. And while Haliburton still managed to make plays and help lead the Pacers to a victory, Beverley was able to keep the ball out of Haliburton’s hands to start a number of possessions.

And while denying Haliburton early in possessions may put the rest of the team in uncomfortable positions at the start of possessions, it may end up being worth it to throw off the normal cadence, timing and rhythm of Pacers possessions.

“Indiana wants to get the ball up between 20 and 24, four seconds,” Rivers said on Wednesday. “If it’s over four seconds, then I guess that’s a bad possession for them. They want it to cross half court— I know they practice in two (seconds) — but they know four is realistic. And so when you stunt guys, maybe that’s six or eight, that changes what they do. So that’s some of the stuff we will do.”


Trying to pressure Haliburton, however, can be a dangerous game. For it to be effective, it needs to be done aggressively and it needs to be done before Haliburton gets the ball in his hands. If it is not done early and aggressively, it can give Haliburton easy driving lanes, as the Bucks can attest from their time in Las Vegas.

“Bad pressure is when you speed a guy up and he beats you off the dribble and he creates more help and you actually get them into doing what they want to do anyway — and that’s to draw and kick,” Rivers said. “Good pressure is being able to turn him, but keep him in front of you. And now all of a sudden, instead of running the play here, they’re way out there. If you can extend their offense because of your pressure, that’s great pressure.”

Denying Haliburton the ball early in possessions may force the Bucks into 4-on-4 situations at the start of possessions, but if the Bucks can hold up in those situations, they’ve taken the Pacers deeper into the shot clock and successfully made them start their possession later than they might want. That would be a strong start to possessions.

While the injury to Giannis Antetokounmpo has garnered much of the pre-series attention, Haliburton’s lingering left hamstring issues could play a large role in this series as well. While it is impossible to say the injury is fully responsible for changes in his team’s play, considering the Pacers made a significant roster change in adding Pascal Siakam, the numbers suggest Haliburton’s hamstring issue has slowed the Pacers down considerably.

Per Cleaning the Glass, Indiana was third in the NBA in transition points-plus and sixth in transition percentage before Haliburton’s injury on Jan. 8. After his return on Jan. 30, the Pacers dropped to 13th in transition points-plus and 12th in transition percentage. On top of that, the Pacers played at a pace of 104.6 possessions per 48 minutes with on the floor before the injury and then 102.3 possessions per 48 minutes after his return.


For the Bucks though, limiting transition opportunities is only the first step. Once they get into half-court situations, they are going to have to be much better defensively against Haliburton than they were in the regular season. Possessions such as this one needs to be an exception rather than regular occurrence:

Haliburton is a spectacular offensive talent, but that was not a spectacular offensive play. It was easy. Beasley got into a defensive stance and then just whiffed on slowing down Haliburton in any way, which left Lopez alone to try to cover both Haliburton and Turner. All season, Beasley and Lillard struggled to impact the ball, so Beverley may end up being useful in that regard, but Rivers was quick to note that Beverley is not going to lock up Haliburton.

“Well, listen, Haliburton is a great player, so (Beverley) is going to help, but it’s not going to be one single guy,” Rivers said. “Haliburton is too good for that. So, (Beverley) helps us because in the past, maybe in the five games, there was somebody who the coach said you had to guard (Haliburton). At least in our case, we have a guy who wants to (guard him). That helps.”

Beverley will be an upgrade for the Bucks defensively over Beasley and Lillard, but it remains to be seen how much Rivers will play Beverley each night. The defensive-focused point guard has shown that he can take on heavy minutes — 36 minutes in the Bucks’ 122-113 win over the Atlanta Hawks is his high tally with the Bucks — but Rivers will need to figure out the balance between offensive and defensive talent needed on the floor in the series. He will also watch out for foul trouble for Beverley.

Beverley is not as young as he once was, so the Bucks will likely need to go away from just putting Beverley on Haliburton with basic drop coverage from Lopez in pick-and-rolls and living with the results, like they might have done with Jrue Holiday last season. They will have to have different coverages ready for Haliburton and that will pose problems as well, considering the Bucks’ personnel with Antetokounmpo likely out for the start of the series.

The Bucks have shown some switch possessions against the Pacers, but those possessions have not gone well.

Lopez is not an ideal switch defender, especially when Haliburton is shooting the ball well, but his ability to hold up in those situations may end up being one of the things most affected by Haliburton’s hamstring injury.

Outside of the Pacers’ pace, Haliburton’s scoring acumen has been the thing most affected by his lingering hamstring issue. According to tracking stats compiled by The Athletic’s Seth Partnow, despite similar shot difficulty before and after the injury, Haliburton shot 7.3 percentage points above expectation in the first 33 games of the season and only 2.2 percentage points above expectation after returning for the final 35 games of the season.


And the biggest drop-off came from behind the 3-point line. While Haliburton finished versus contests at a similar level from inside the arc, even shooting slightly better from 2 after the hamstring issue popped, according to Partnow’s statistics, his 3-point shooting took a significant dip in the second half of the season. Haliburton’s percentage dropped from 43.8 percent to 35 percent on team-created 3-point attempts after returning from the injury and all the way from 39.2 percent to 32.3 percent on self-created 3-pointers.

Those statistics do not suggest that the Bucks are just suddenly going to shut down Haliburton. That is not how it works in the postseason against the other team’s best player who conducts a heliocentric offense and put up All-NBA numbers.

Haliburton is still a special playmaker that mixes up different types of shots and tortures defenses on a nightly basis, but if the Bucks remain vigilant about checking the Pacers’ pace and then try to keep defenders in front of him in an attempt to force him to shoot more 3s, they might have a better chance to slow him down than one might initially believe after watching their match-ups during the regular season.

(Photo of Tyrese Haliburton and Malik Beasley: Dylan Buell / Getty Images)

Can the Bucks slow the Pacers' Tyrese Haliburton? They have their work cut out for them (2024)
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