LAS VEGAS -- In order for the Los Angeles Lakers to win the NBA's inaugural in-season tournament crown on Saturday, they'll have to contend with a "jewel" in Indiana Pacers point guard Tyrese Haliburton.
"He's sneaky athletic. He has length to him, and his vision is incredible," Lakers coach Darvin Ham said when asked about Haliburton on Friday ahead of the championship game. "I mean, the things he's able to do with the basketball, the way he sets up his teammates, looks off defenders, the way he pushes the pace in transition, he's constantly in attack mode."
Ham added: "I think they've got a jewel, man."
Haliburton sparkled in Indiana's 128-119 semifinal win over the Milwaukee Bucks, totaling 27 points, 15 assists and no turnovers. It was the third time this season that Haliburton, who leads the NBA in assists per game, scored at least 25 points while also making 15 or more assists without a turnover. No other player has more than one such game in his career since turnovers started being tracked in 1977-78.
"He makes life easy for you as a teammate playing alongside of him," said Lakers guard Austin Reaves, who teamed with Haliburton on Team USA at the FIBA World Cup in the Philippines over the summer. "It's just the pace that he plays with and the willingness to be that unselfish. He makes the right play the majority of the time. He doesn't really turn the ball over. He instills confidence in you.
"Anytime he swings the ball and you're open, he wants you to shoot it. It's not more so shoot it to give me an assist; it's he wants you to be successful, as well."
Haliburton, who will turn 24 later this month, has Indiana in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, and he orchestrates a high-powered offense that leads the NBA in scoring with 128.4 points per game. Haliburton is averaging a career-best 26.9 points per game on 52.5% from the field and 44.1% from 3-point range and is one of eight Pacers players to average double digits in scoring.
"Obviously their pace of play is second to none," Reaves said. "They score a lot of points and are very capable of going on quick runs just with the way they shoot the ball and the way they play. Being able to transition or not -- honestly, they kind of make it all transition; even if you make a shot, they get it out of the net real quick."
The Lakers rank 25th in opponents' fast-break points allowed, giving up 15.3 points per game. Indiana ranks second in fast-break points scored per game, at 17.2.
Haliburton made the All-Star Game last season and has his team primed to get back into the playoffs for the first time since 2020. This after being drafted by the Sacramento Kings with the No. 12 pick in 2020 and being traded to Indiana his second season.
"I think that just goes to show where you get drafted matters," Lakers guard D'Angelo Russell, who was also a former lottery selection and traded early in his career, said of Haliburton. "System matters. Where he got drafted, he wasn't able to do that, and change of scenery helped him and allowed him to become who he is. I'm a big fan of system and where you're drafted matters."
The Lakers and the Pacers have approached the in-season tournament as if it matters to their teams, shaping things up for an intriguing championship game on Saturday.
"We've just got to be ready for a little bit of everything, but we can't get so caught up in trying to stop and prevent them from doing what they like to do," Ham said. "We will, but we also can't forget to enforce our will upon the game, too. They have to guard us, too."