The Celtics outlasted the Pacers, 118-101 Saturday night in a matchup between two of the best teams in the Eastern conference. It was messy, but Boston delivered a professional performance to gain an important win.
With seven minutes left in the first, Kristaps Porzingis went down with an eye injury after former Celtic Aaron Nesmith hit him in the face. The score was 8-5 Boston.
Porzingis returned less than three minutes later, for roughly thirty seconds. He didn’t return after that. His injury seemed to energize the squad, turning a brutal shooting start into a 21-12 run to close the quarter at 29-17.
Jaylen Brown seemed to figure something out towards the end of the first, going at Indiana Point guard Tyrese Haliburton repeatedly. He had 8 points in the first, on 4-8 shooting.
Brown ended up with 38 points, 4 rebounds, and 1 assist, and break-out star Haliburton had 17 points, 6 rebounds, and 7 assists.
All the calls were going the Pacers way in the second, and if it weren’t for Jayson Tatum heroics, the handsy Pacers would have closed the gap quickly. Tatum had multiple pull-up threes, a shot he’s been awesome at in the last few games.
Tatum struggled to get to the line in the first half, and officials thought it better to reward established superstars like Benedict Mathurin, who shot six free throws in the first half.
Boston had no attempts at the line at the midway point, to match Indiana’s 13.
Twelve first-half turnovers from Boston didn’t help either.
Regardless, Boston led 58-49 at the half, behind Tatum’s 20 points and Brown’s 17.
Brown and Tatum’s first-half performances matched that of half-time performers, the Roll City Circus: they looked strong, poised, and talented during their act, but were not – by any means – showmen. It was an ugly half.
The game was looking a lot more like Boston’s loss to Indiana in the In-Season Tournament than their blowout win over the Pacers earlier in the season.
Eight free throws clanked out for Boston in the third quarter, in case you needed another indication that it wasn’t the Celtics’ night. The only player to complete both free throws at a trip to the line was Luke Kornet, who almost lost his shots after Sam Hauser stepped to the line in his place.
Buddy Hield splashed a three to help decrease Boston’s lead at the end of the third, and you could almost hear Indiana’s home fans through the sea of green in Gainbridge Fieldhouse. Boston led 84-81 going into the final act.
A 14-4 run by the Celtics was capped by an incredible play from Jayson Tatum, which started with a sweet behind-the-back pass. Unfortunately, the refs called a foul on the floor, robbing the shot and the free throws in one of the worst review decisions I’ve ever seen. So, Tatum turned it into a 16-4 run, scoring six straight on his own. He was truly special in this quarter, scoring from everywhere and making elite reads.
Tatum finished with 38 points, 14 rebounds, and 6 assists. He was 8-13 on threes.
This Pacers team has shown that they can anger the Celtics like almost no other. Aaron Nesmith is a consistent force of nature, even if he isn’t always a force of good basketball (8 points on 0-7 shooting from three tonight). And Haliburton is one of the best players in the NBA. He’s having a historically great season, averaging more points (24) than any other player with 12+ assists per game in NBA history.
The Celtics come away with a solid win over a good team, despite missing 9 free throws and turning the ball over 17 times. Their record against the Pacers improves to 2-1 on the season. Even when the Pacers put together a good stretch, it felt like The Celtics remained in control of the game. The Pacers scored their fewest points in any game all season.
Shoutout to Al Horford, who led the game with 8 assists – adding to his 10 points and 7 rebounds.
The Celtics will remain in Indiana until their Monday night matchup vs. the Pacers.