Pacers Notes: Siakam, Toppin, McConnell, Nembhard, Turner

The Pacers entered the Eastern Conference finals as massive underdogs, played without their best player (Tyrese Haliburton) for more than half the series, and were ultimately dispatched by the top-seeded Celtics in four games. However, as Jamal Collier of ESPN writes, it feels like a missed opportunity for the team, which had at least a 90% win probability in the fourth quarter of Games 1, 3, and 4, per ESPN Stats & Information.

“It’s still very fresh for all of us,” starting center Myles Turner said following Monday’s Game 4 loss. “Very frustrating to have all these games in your grasp and let it slip through.”

As disheartening as the outcome was, the Pacers recognize they exceeded preseason expectations by making the playoffs for the first time since 2020 and winning two series. Starting guard Andrew Nembhard referred to the postseason experience as “second to none,” while reserve forward Obi Toppin said a “lot of good” came out of the season, adding that “we grew as a whole culture.” Still, there was frustration about not better taking advantage of the opportunity they had this year, since there’s no guarantee that opportunity will arise 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,” Pascal Siakam said, per Collier. “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.”

Here’s more on the Pacers:

  • An unrestricted free agent this summer, Siakam declined to specifically address his contract situation but spoke glowingly about the half-season he spent in Indiana after being traded from the Raptors to the Pacers in January. “It’s been a blessing,” Siakam said (Twitter video link via Michael Scotto of HoopsHype). “I’m really appreciative of everything. Coming from where I come from, it means a lot. The support that I’ve received here is something I was kind of missing. Having all that and seeing how the city just breathes basketball and how much support they give to the team…it’s incredible. How would you not be a part of that? I’m just really blessed and happy how this has been.”
  • Re-signing Siakam will be the Pacers’ top priority this summer, as Bobby Marks of ESPN (Insider link) and Mark Deeks of HoopsHype write in their previews of the club’s offseason, though it seems unlikely to be a drawn-out process, Marks observes. Re-signing Toppin and perhaps extending T.J. McConnell could be more challenging negotiations, Marks notes, and improving the defense will be another major offseason goal.
  • While the Pacers would certainly have preferred to have a healthy Haliburton available for Games 3 and 4 vs. Boston, the performances Nembhard submitted as the starting point guard were bright spots in the final days of Indiana’s season, writes Kyle Neddenriep of The Indianapolis Star. Nembhard averaged 28.0 points, 9.5 assists, and 5.0 rebounds per game on .564/.538/1.000 shooting in those two tight losses and “defended at a high level,” per head coach Rick Carlisle. “He could be a starter on any team in this league,” McConnell said of Nembhard, who does typically start alongside Haliburton at the two. “He’s proven that night in and night out. What he’s done in the playoffs is truly remarkable, where defenses are game-planning even more for you. He just rose to the challenge every night.” Nembhard will be extension-eligible this offseason but is still under team control on a minimum-salary deal for two more seasons, so there’s no urgency to get a deal done right away.
  • Making it this deep in the postseason was special for Turner, who said he’s never been beyond the first round of the playoffs in his life, even in high school. As James Boyd of The Athletic details, few NBA players have been with their current teams longer than Turner has been a Pacer, which made this year’s success more rewarding for the veteran center, who has been the subject of trade rumors multiple times over the years and seemed on the verge of being replaced when Indiana signed Deandre Ayton to a maximum-salary offer sheet in 2022. “It’s a rarity that one player is with an organization as long as I’ve been, so I definitely don’t take it for granted. I have a lot of love for the city, and I try to express it as much as I can,” Turner said. “But to be frank, I have dealt with a lot of bullsh–t since I been here. Honestly, just battling sometimes with non-believers, having to deal with all of the trade rumors, having another big man signed right in front of my eyes. … No matter what was thrown in front of me, I’m gonna continue to be the consummate professional and the man that I am. It’s very easy to be like, ‘This happened, so I’m gonna up,’ or, ‘They gave up on me, so I’m gonna give up on them.’ That’s not my M.O.”
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