Haliburton has missed the past six games, the first two with a bruised left knee and the past four with a sprained right ankle suffered in practice on March 15. The first game he missed after the ankle injury was against the Bucks in Milwaukee, which stung because Haliburton grew up in Oshkosh, Wisc., and also had to sit out the Pacers' other trip to Milwaukee earlier this season with a sprained right elbow.
"It's just frustrating because I didn't get to play at home all year," Haliburton said after shootaround Friday morning. "A lot of people, friends and family came to the game. But just in general, I don't like missing games. Sometimes, things aren't up to our control. It's frustrating, but when I am able to get back, I'm just excited to help."
Haliburton said he injured the ankle during a 5-on-5 scrimmage.
"I just made a move and rolled my ankle," Haliburton said.
It was also frustrating because Haliburton was particularly effective before going on the shelf. He posted at least 29 points and at least 11 assists in each of the last three games he played. He bruised the knee at the end of regulation in a win over the Rockets on March 9, but played through the injury and scored 12 points in overtime to give the Pacers a win. In his last four games, he averaged 32.3 points and 13 assists per game. He's averaging 20.8 points and 10.4 assists per game this season, leading the Pacers in scoring and ranking second in the NBA in assists per game.
The Pacers have done a much better job of keeping it together during this stretch without Haliburton than they did in his previous extended absence. In January when he missed 10 games with the elbow sprain, the Pacers lost nine of those and took a while to recover even once he returned, losing 16 of 18 games from Jan. 11 to Feb. 15. This time, the Pacers have won three of six games with impressive road victories against the Bucks and Raptors.
The difference is the development of Andrew Nembhard, who has taken over point guard duties in Haliburton's absence. During Haliburton's absence in January, Nembhard averaged 8.5 points per game, scoring in double figures in just two of the eight games he played in out of the 10 Haliburton missed. In the past six games, Nembhard averaged 17.8 points per game. He scored just two in Monday's loss to Charlotte, but scored at least 15 in each of other five and cracked the 20-point mark three times.
"Just getting downhill," Haliburton said when asked what he saw Nembhard improve. "Getting to the rim, sharing the ball with others. He's just kind of experimenting offensively with his reads. Making passes at different angles. All that kind of stuff. I think you can see the game kind of slowing down for him a little bit. People don't understand. It takes a long time for this game to slow down for everybody, but especially the good ones. It takes a long time. It didn't slow down for me really until the end of my second year and early this year. It takes a while. But you can start to see him settling in to who he is as a player and he's playing really well."
This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Pacers vs. Celtics: Tyrese Haliburton making progress toward return