Forget Reggie vs Spike. It’s all about Tyrese vs. MSG Network?
The New York Knicks’ rivalry with the Indiana Pacers has fizzled out in the new century, having previously served as must-see TV in the 1990s. But the TV aspect could play a role again, thanks to Knicks analyst Wally Szczerbiak, whose comments from the teams’ last meeting appear to be staying on Indiana’s bulletin board.
That’s what the Pacers, who will be visiting Madison Square Garden Wednesday night (7:30 p.m. ET, MSG), appear to be implying as they arrive in Manhattan. Indiana (23-18) was surprisingly engaged for an automatic playoff berth in the Eastern Conference and was…well, paced…by the antics of Tyrese Haliburton, the current NBA’s 10.3-per-game assists leader, who also relinquishes a career-high in scoring (20.3 per game).
But that wasn’t enough to impress Szczerbiak, a former NBA veteran who now provides Knicks gameday analysis on the MSG Network studio. When the Knicks and Pacers faced off in Indianapolis earlier on Dec. 18, Haliburton’s tough night off the field (5 of 16 despite a 10-assist 15-point double-double) ended in a missed equalizer with just over a second stays in of regulation, allowing New York to escape Gainbridge Fieldhouse with a 109-106 win.
Haiburton had previously missed a go-ahead basket with 12 seconds remaining, and Szczerbiak was only too happy to remind him of the missed shots on MSG’s postgame show, referring to the third-year man as “Mr. Allegedly, wannabe, fake All-Star.” Like their common enemy of the 1990s, Michael Jordan before them, the Pacers seem to be “taking this personally.” An on-air apology from Szczerbiak during MSG audition a few nights later appears to have done little to soothe relations.
In the run-up to their visit to New York, Haliburton kept his cool and simply said “yes” when asked if he was looking forward to visiting Manhattan. TJ McConnell, on the other hand, was a little more direct about the Pacers’ intent to make a statement. Though he didn’t mention Szczerbiak by name, it’s clear the team wants to help Haliburton prove he’s worthy of his first All-Star invite.
“I think there was some fuel in that fire after the Knicks game.” McConnell said. “I won’t name names, but there was some fuel for that fire that ignited our All-Star to come out and take us to the next level. It started with Tyrese. He was phenomenal.”
According to McConnell, the Pacers have been 8-2 since the Knicks’ visit, and Haliburton has been an integral part of that success, averaging 22.9 points, 9.2 assists and 1.9 steals over that span. That includes a career-best 43 points in a Dec. 23 win over Miami, which came five days after Szczerbiak’s on-air spit.
At the time of the verbal assault, Haliburton claimed to have heard Szczerbiak’s name in passing, but claimed he “couldn’t tell you where he played” or “what he did as a basketball player.” Szczerbiak played 10 NBA seasons after coming out of Miami University as the sixth pick of the 1999 draft, and was an All-Star himself in 2002 when he repeated the Minnesota Timberwolves. He has worked with MSG Network since 2012 and occasionally serves as the Knicks’ color commentary in place of longtime announcer Walt “Clyde” Frazier.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags
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