Pacers frustrated by close losses but see value in playoff run

INDIANAPOLIS -- Indiana Pacers center Myles Turner was still filled with conflicting emotions in the aftermath of the Eastern Conference finals.

On one hand, Turner -- the longest-tenured player on the team, having been drafted by Indiana in 2015 -- called this season an incredible journey. After missing the playoffs the past three seasons, the Pacers won their first playoff series in more than a decade and reached the conference finals for the first time since 2014.

But the fact the Pacers had a fourth-quarter lead in three of their four losses to the Boston Celtics still stung as players left the arena Monday night after dropping Game 4 105-102 to complete a Boston series sweep.

"It's still very fresh for all of us," Turner said. "Very frustrating to have all these games in your grasp and let it slip through."

Indiana played the last two games without star guard Tyrese Haliburton, who was sidelined by a left hamstring injury, but the Pacers did not use his absence as an excuse. Especially because the Pacers knew they had an opportunity to win multiple games in the series.

The Pacers had at least a 90% win probability in the fourth quarter of Games 1, 3 and 4, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. They lost all three games.

They led 117-114 with the ball and 9 seconds left in Game 1. They were up 109-101 with 2:25 seconds left at home in Game 3. And again in Monday's Game 4, they were up 98-90 with 5:40 left but failed to score over the final 3:30.

"For a young team like us, this experience in the playoffs is second to none," said Pacers guard Andrew Nembhard, who finished with a team-high 24 points. "A lot of our first times. A lot of little things we maybe wanted to do better and we learned how these games go and what being in a series feels like."

Yes, the Pacers featured a roster full of players making their first playoff run, such as Nembhard, Haliburton and Aaron Nesmith. But veteran Pacers forward Pascal Siakam, who won a championship with the Toronto Raptors in 2019, emphasized it's not a given Indiana will have this opportunity again.

"I can tell you like, yeah, we're going to learn from it and it's going to happen, but it's not guaranteed," Siakam said. "I know how hard it is to get to this point. It's unfortunate. You want to give credit to the other team because they took advantage of every mistake that we made. They did well.

"But for us, it's been hard, like heartbreaking losses after heartbreaking losses. Yeah, you're going to be encouraged by it and you hope to put the right amount of work to continue to get better. Because we need to be a lot better if you want to compete with those teams. And understand it doesn't matter how good we played, we didn't get it done."

Siakam, who will be a free agent this summer after coming to Indiana in a midseason trade, declined to talk about his future but reiterated several times he was grateful to feel supported during his tenure in Indiana.

"It's been a blessing," Siakam said. "I'm really appreciative of everything. Coming from where I come from, it means a lot."

The Pacers established themselves as one of the league's breakout teams by making a run to the in-season tournament finals in early December. They racked up 47 wins and clinched the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference, while Haliburton was named an All-Star starter and made third-team All-NBA.

Indiana picked up two series wins during this playoff run by upsetting a higher seed. The Pacers beat the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round and the New York Knicks in the conference semifinals.

The Pacers benefited from some injury luck along the way, facing Milwaukee without Giannis Antetokounmpo, while the Knicks saw Jalen Brunson, OG Anunoby and Josh Hart all go down to injuries during the second-round series.

Then in the conference finals, the Pacers had to deal with injuries of their own when Haliburton aggravated a left hamstring injury in Game 2 that kept him out the rest of the series. In his first 15 playoff games, Haliburton was averaging 18.7 points and 8.2 assists.

"Ty never got rattled, man," Turner said. "Whatever teams threw at him, he found a way."

Ultimately, Indiana did not have enough to overcome the loss of its star player. However, as Pacers players wrestled with their emotions over the season ending, they were sure to emphasize how far they had come in a short period of time.

"This whole year we grew as teammates, we grew as a whole culture," Pacers forward Obi Toppin said. "It felt like everybody poured in everything they could for this organization every single day. Obviously, season didn't end the way we wanted to, but there's lot of good that came out of this season. And we don't want to overlook that.

"It was a big year for the Pacers and this whole organization, so we don't want to overlook that."