Once again, the Indiana Pacers matched an impressive first half performance with a completely inept second half showing, turning a potential Game 1 upset into a frustrating and disappointing Game 1 loss. The Pacers controlled things against the Boston Celtics in the first half, outworking them on both ends, forcing turnovers and scoring in transition to build a 45-38 halftime lead.
The game was at the perfect pace for the Pacers, where they played as the aggressors and were able to force the physicality through them. The few times they game got out in the open, it also favored the Pacers, who scored 10 fast break points in the first half. It was also an all-around effort, with balanced scoring lifting them to the halftime lead.
That all went away in the third quarter, when after a couple of turnovers, the Celtics were able to slice into the lead. To make matters worse, the shots quit falling for the Pacers. Shots constantly went in and out and then they simply did not go. At the end of it all, the Pacers had their worst quarter in franchise history, scoring eight points on 2-18 shooting.
The shooting itself was bad, but the Pacers were not prepared to match up with an improved sense of urgency from the Celtics. Boston came out wanting to stake a claim in this game and the Pacers weren’t against that. Indiana’s first field goal of the third came with 3:28 to go and it didn’t even go through the the hoop: it was a goaltend.
When the Pacers weren’t missing shots or turning it over, they did manage to get to the free throw line, but even that didn’t work in their favor. In the third, they were 4-7 in the quarter totaling seven missed free throws to that point. Those seven missed FTs made up the entirety of the score after Doug McDermott missed the and one free throw.
Seeing Indiana completely fall off the map in the third quarter, somehow performing worse than their long standing third quarter struggles against teams like Oklahoma City and Philadelphia, was made worse by the fact that Boston still wasn’t doing a whole lot offensively to pull away.
That changed when Terry Rozier flailed up a buzzer beating three to turn an eight point lead into a 11-point one. But wait! The Pacers weren’t done yet, continuing their shooting woes into the fourth quarter, going 1-8 to start as the Celtics then were able to hit enough shots to put it on ice, holding serve at home to put the Pacers down 0-1.
The Celtics defense really bothered the Pacers in the second half, keeping Indiana out of the paint entirely until Tyreke Evans missed a shot at the rim at 3:41 remaining. That was eight minutes of missed threes and midrange shots before Indiana even looked inside. They took four shots in the final four minutes, going 2-4 for the quarter.
Boston built up a 22-point lead before in the late stages of the fourth quarter before Indiana closed the game on a 12-0 run. That allowed Indiana to win the fourth quarter 21-20, which would be their second win of the game after tying 20-20 in the first. The game was played at a pace and at an offensive level that allowed room for Indiana to struggle, but in what feels awfully familiar, the margin for error the Pacers gave themselves wasn’t enough to match the level of struggles they had for the game.
Simply matching their 45-point first half would’ve been enough for a win in this one as the Celtics win on just 84 points. In those 84 points, there are areas the Celtics can obviously improve, but outside of a 20-point night from Marcus Morris, there was a lot Indiana did well defensively, but whether they can match that kind of effort will be big moving forward in this series.
The Pacers are simply going to need bigger nights from everyone, however. Cory Joseph led the team with 14 points on 5-9 shooting, but only Bojan Bogdanovic reached double figures beyond that, getting there well after the game was over, finishing with just 12. That means Indiana’s balanced attack from the first half simply came up short in the second.
Wesley Matthews and Tyreke Evans led the way with eight points each in the first half, but neither scored in the second half. Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis each languished in single digits, scoring just 12 between the two of them. Add in six and two points for Darren Collison and Doug McDermott and it became a total team effort in terms of striking out.
In desperate need of any kind of spark, Nate McMillan held strong to his rotation. Meanwhile, when he emptied the bench, Aaron Holiday stepped in and immediately hit a three, then set up T.J. Leaf for a great look inside (he did miss it, however). Maybe there’s no correlation, but it’s hard to believe Holiday can’t provide something, anything in these stretches when the offensive wanders the desert in search of buckets.
Perhaps that will be one of the many adjustments necessary to help them put together a 48-minute game when they’ve so often struggled to do so after the All-Star Break. On the positive side of things, the Pacers know they can play with Boston in this series. They let a real opportunity slip through their fingers today, but very little of their success felt like an anomaly.
In fact, some of it, like the first half effort and the ability to force and score off Boston miscues, will have to be cornerstones of their success. Indiana will have extra time to brainstorm a response heading into Game 2, tipping off again in Boston on Wednesday.