What will the Pacers do vs. Boston if Tyrese Haliburton (hamstring) misses time

BOSTON -- Rick Carlisle wouldn't call what he did with his lineup in the fourth quarter of Thursday's 126-110 loss to the No. 1 seed Celtics in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals "giving up.” In the context of a seven-game series it's probably not fair to go anywhere near the term "quit." But the Pacers coach could make a fair case that the position his team has entered -- down 2-0 in the series with their franchise player's status in question — is cause for at least a brief tactical retreat.

Early in the fourth, the Pacers released news through their social media accounts that two-time All-Star and recently-anointed third-team All-NBA point guard Tyrese Haliburton would not return because of a sore left leg. Carlisle would later acknowledge that it was Haliburton's left hamstring, that it had been sore at halftime and treated but his third quarter return didn't go well and that he was ruled out by medical staff. It was a strained left hamstring that kept Haliburton out for 10 games in January -- five before he made an attempt at a comeback and five after -- and then kept him on a minutes restriction for about two weeks after that.

At this point, Carlisle said, he doesn't know any more than that. He couldn't say whether Haliburton would be back for Game 3 on Saturday at Gainbridge Fieldhouse or whether the injury meant going back to square one for all the work Haliburton had done since January to get right.

"Losing Ty for the game obviously is a big blow," Carlisle said. "... We'll know more (Friday) and then probably even more Saturday."

Once he had that news, Carlisle seemed to take it as a sign that the Pacers needed to step back and regroup, acknowledge that a Game 2 comeback wasn't in the cards and start contemplating what they have to do to win Games 3 and 4 at home if they don't have their second-leading scorer and the NBA's assist champion. They trailed by 13 points when the quarter began and even though they cut it to 11 early in the period, the deficit was back to 17 by the 10:11 mark. Carlisle’s decisions from that point forward suggested a coach trying to assess his remaining troops rather than playing for a furious comeback.

Veteran wing Doug McDermott -- who had played 35 minutes the entire playoffs and most of those in blowouts -- played the entire fourth quarter. Center Jalen Smith, who had been the backup most of the season but had played just 35 minutes in the playoffs, got in for 6 minutes and 45 seconds. Rookie forward Jarace Walker played 4:51 and was the nominal point guard for much of that time.

Starting center Myles Turner and small forward Aaron Nesmith never returned to the floor in the fourth quarter. All-Star power forward Pascal Siakam, who had 28 points on 13 of 17 shooting and would have been the Pacers best hope to carry a comeback attempt, checked out with 9:25 left and the deficit 17 points and didn't return. Guard Andrew Nembhard got 4:34 of work but even he came out for good with 4:51 to go and the Pacers down 16.

"To look at some guys that I thought needed a look," Carlisle said when asked why he dug so deep into the bench so early. "McDermott went in there and played well. Isaiah Jackson brought a lot of fight to the game. Jalen Smith hasn't had much of an opportunity to play in the playoffs, so I wanted to see where he was at. We weren't giving up, but it was an opportunity to get some energetic fresh guys in there to fight. They did some good things."

An unstated reason why Carlisle would need to look at some guys is that if Haliburton is out, he'll likely have to bring someone into the fold who hasn't played much in these playoffs. The Pacers do have point guard options without Haliburton in Andrew Nembhard and T.J. McConnell, but the moving parts don't stop there and the production lost doesn't end with distribution. Depending how the pieces move, they could need McDermott or Smith or Walker to step in and give them something, so it made sense for Carlisle to want to check back in on them.

Haliburton led the NBA in assists with 10.9 per game and also averaged 20.1 points per game. He's one of the Pacers' best options as a scorer on the dribble drive and also their most prolific outside shooter. He went through a dry spell with his 3-point shooting earlier this season, but he's hit 53 3-pointers in the playoffs, the most total 3s of anyone who's appeared in the tournament. In the last eight games, he's averaging 22.3 points per game on 53.2% shooting including 43.2% from beyond the arc, averaging 4.4 made 3-pointers per game in that stretch. No one else on the team is averaging more than 2.1 over that period.

The Pacers went 6-4 in the 10 games he missed in January and they even beat the Celtics on Jan. 8, the night he suffered the injury in the first half when he got one foot to stop on a drive into the paint but the other kept sliding until he was in a painful split. But that was the regular season and these are the playoffs. Of the six teams the Pacers beat with Haliburton out after that Celtics win, two (Wizards, Grizzlies) were lottery bound teams, two more (Hawks, Kings) lost in the play-in round and the only two that made the playoffs (76ers, Suns) were defeated in the first round.

Besides, the Pacers are without some key pieces who were helpful in that stretch. Shooting guards Bennedict Mathurin and Buddy Hield gave them necessary perimeter scoring punch. They were individually inconsistent in that period and both had games where they didn't perform well, but they combined for 41 points in the win over the Celtics, 33 in the win over the Hawks, and 37 in the win over the Kings. Mathurin is out for the year after having surgery in March to repair a torn labrum, however, and Hield was traded to the 76ers at the trade deadline in February. Though the Pacers' bench was the highest scoring unit in the NBA in the regular season and is still the highest-scoring unit in the playoffs, they don't have wings on the bench now with the kind of scoring capacity who could step into the starting lineup to replace what Haliburton does.

The advantage the Pacers have now is a fully-integrated Siakam. The Pacers acquired him in the middle of Haliburton's recovery, and the two-time All-NBA pick became the Pacers' leading scorer the rest of the year. On Thursday, he was the biggest reason the Pacers kept it competitive at any point. He scored 28 points on 13 of 17 shooting. In the second quarter after the Celtics started the period on a 15-0 run, which was really a 20-0 run that started in the previous quarter, Siakam scored 12 points in the last four minutes of the period to cut what had been a 16-point Boston deficit down to six points at halftime.

It was another example of Siakam's ability to take control of the game when the Pacers are struggling. He has the capacity to play as fast as the Pacers want in transition, but his 6-8 frame, 7-3 wingspan and ability to score at all three levels means that in a halfcourt game, he's very difficult to stop. If Haliburton is out, they can still get a lot of production by leaning on Siakam, who is averaging a team-high 21.7 points per game on 55.1% shooting in the playoffs.

"However we want to play as a team, I'm able to do that," Siakam said. "If we want to play fast, I can do that. If we want to play slow I can do that."

But outside of that the Pacers will need to lean on each other if Haliburton is out. It's not obvious who they would start in his stead, as Hield was in the starting lineup in the last game he missed. They could use two point guards by just sliding McConnell into Haliburton's spot and keeping Nembhard where he is but also staggering their exits in such a way that they never need to take both off the floor at once. They could move Obi Toppin in to the lineup to go big and move Nesmith to shooting guard or they could at least theoretically move rookie Ben Sheppard, the most natural shooting guard on the bench, into the starting lineup to keep McConnell as the leader of the second unit.

Either way they'll have to rely on sharing the ball rather than looking for someone to take over and they could find themselves in need of contributions from McDermott, Walker or Smith to try to get by. They have to be a different team without Haliburton, and they have to regroup and become one in less than 48 hours before Game 3.

"He does so many things for our team where everyone just has to move the ball more and get in the paint more," McConnell said. "The ball movement, like I said, just has to be at another level. He gets 10 assists in his sleep. It's hard for another person on our team to replicate that. It's a group effort when he goes down to kinda get people the ball and get moving."

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: What will Pacers do vs. Boston if Tyrese Haliburton (hamstring) is out