In most cases, the progress the Indiana Pacers achieved this season would make them feel like an undeniable success and possibly a contender-in-the-making. They have All-Star talent and a championship-winning head coach, and their 12-win increase from last year should further reinforce the notion that this team is on the rise.

However, there looks to be a hefty cloud of skepticism hovering above the Pacers. Despite finishing just three games shy of the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, shaky defense and inconsistent play have many people feeling indifferent towards this group. The sparkle that accompanies other ascending franchises just seems to be missing with Indiana, at least since the NBA In-Season Tournament.

But a first-round meeting with the Giannis-Antetokounmpo-less Milwaukee Bucks in the NBA Playoffs, a squad the Pacers owned in the regular season, is the perfect opportunity to steal fans' hearts once again. Although we are only getting started, it might be tough to muster up a ton of excitement for them after their 109-94 road loss in Sunday night's Game 1.

The contest was not as competitive as the scoreboard suggests, with a strong third quarter being the only true signs of life the No. 6 seed showed in the Fiserv Forum. Rick Carlisle will presumably make adjustments and Indiana should be able to punch back going forward, but this performance was undoubtedly concerning.

While everyone outside of Pascal Siakam (36 points, 13 rebounds) deserves their share of criticism for the outcome, there are a couple of guys who carry the most blame for the Pacers' Game 1 defeat.

Aaron Nesmith

Stars are going to be held to a higher standard during this time of the year. That is simply the nature of the postseason. However, that does not exclude complimentary pieces like Aaron Nesmith from being singled out when they fail to answer the call on the big stage. Especially when they are on said stage for 37 minutes.

The 24-year-old wing was 2-of-9 from the field and 1-of-7 on his 3-pointer attempts, contributing to a lackluster offensive effort that saw Indiana shoot below 40 percent for the game (21.1 percent from distance). More significant than a cold shooting night, though, was that Nesmith also struggled on the defensive end, which is where he tends to stand out most.

If the former first-round draft pick is going to log serious minutes in Bennedict Mathurin's absence, then he needs to leave a clear imprint on the action. One way or another.

Pacers need more from Tyrese Haliburton

Indiana Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton (0) shoots a three-point basket in the fourth quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

There are plenty of reasons to believe in the continued growth of this team, but Indy's future is only as bright as its All-Star point guard. Despite leading the league with a whopping 10.9 assists per game, Tyrese Haliburton objectively had a mixed-bag of a 2023-24 campaign.

He has been a different player since coming back from various injuries, as his offensive production noticeably diminished in the second half of the season. A temporary minutes restriction, along with the addition of Siakam, naturally required an adjustment period. But how patient do fans have to be before expressing genuine apprehension?

Haliburton's passive play continued in the Pacers' first playoff game since 2020. He recorded nine points on 4-of-7 shooting, eight assists , seven rebounds, one block and one steal in 38 minutes of action versus the Bucks. Ostensibly, that balanced stat sheet reflects a generally impactful outing. In reality, though, the maestro of this fast-paced offense needs to be more assertive.

It is unacceptable for either Aaron Nesmith or T.J. McConnell to be taking more shot attempts than Tyrese Haliburton. The playmaking component of the 24-year-old's game is what makes him one of the best young guards in the NBA today, but his team also depends on his scoring prowess. Until Haliburton rediscovers that spark, the Pacers will not reach their full potential.

Expect Rick Carlisle and company to lean more on this superb but up-and-down talent for the rest of this postseasons series.

Myles Turner

Analytic experts might consider it to be a tad short-sighted to include Myles Turner on this list of culprits since he was the only Indiana player to earn a positive plus-minus rating in Sunday's Game 1 loss (+2). Maybe I'm just old-school, but a 5-of-17 shooting night typically demands the lion's share of culpability.

Turner's shortcomings are a testament to Milwaukee's smothering defense, which pestered the veteran center throughout the matchup. Although he fared decently from 3-point land (3-of-9), the Bucks rendered this crafty big man ineffective on the offensive end. Turner's eight boards, two steals and solid defense on Brook Lopez are not enough to obscure an overall detrimental display.

Indiana cannot afford a repeat performance from Myles Turner. He is far too important to their postseason prospects to keep scuffling. It is essential that the two-time blocks leader finds his footing in Tuesday's Game 2 battle in Milwaukee.

The Pacers have little chance at obtaining momentum if these three individuals do not quickly remind fans what they are capable of accomplishing. There is no reason why this No. 6 vs. No. 3 face-off cannot still be the dramatic and competitive affair many of us are anticipating.