The formula for success for the post-Victor Oladipo Indiana Pacers has been pretty simple: put together a complete game and good things have come from that. Too often however, they’ve seen winning efforts fade away on the back of a single stretch of basketball. Whether it be a five minutes, a quarter, or a half, the Pacers have quite literally shot themselves out of numerous games and it’s been a trend that’s unfortunately carried over to the playoffs.
In Game 1, their seven point halftime lead evaporated after the Celtics drubbed the Pacers 26-8 in the third quarter. Tonight, that collapse was again unavoidable as they were again outscored big in a single period, this time 31-12, and this time in the fourth quarter after holding a 79-68 lead after three.
The Pacers got that double figure lead behind another night of superior effort. They managed to frustrate the Celtics defensively early and often, capitalizing big on fast break points and points off turnovers to put them ahead in the first quarter. After Boston got off to a quick start, Indiana jumped ahead on a 13-0 run, helping them to ultimately build an eight point lead in the quarter.
Boston quickly tied the game, but the Pacers responded, closing the quarter up four, and again making it an eight point game early in the second. Indiana was never able to push the lead into double figures in the first half, in large part due to the heroics of Kyrie Irving, who did any and everything to keep the Celtics alive in this one, dragging them into the lead at halftime.
Out of the half, the Pacers quickly eclipsed their eight points from Sunday while simultaneously keeping pace with the Celtics out of the half. Up 60-58, the Pacers scored 10 straight points to break through into double figures. That lead wasn’t entirely safe with Irving playing at such a high level, but Tyreke Evans the Pacers had an answer every time, keeping them up heading into the fourth.
Evans hit a three, his third, to give the Pacers an 82-70 lead early in the fourth, but a Bojan Bogdanovic miss at the rim, coupled with a sudden inability to rebound the ball gave the Celtics life. They scored six straight, four of those coming off of offensive rebounds. Evans had an opportunity to stem the tide at the free throw line, but clanked both attempts.
Jayson Tatum made it a four point game. The Pacers missed again, following it up with a shot clock violation on a missed layup. After getting a much needed stop, Thaddeus Young saw a layup of his own jump inexplicably out of the basket, setting up Irving to hit a three to make it a one point game.
Indiana came up empty on their next three shots, including another shot popping out of the basket from Darren Collison and a failure to capitalize off of a big turnover. Irving meanwhile continued to terrorize the Pacers, taking the lead on a three and then making it a four point game. By the time the dust settled, the Celtics had scored 16 straight points while the Pacers missed 10 straight shots.
Matthews gave the Pacers some much needed life when he splashed home a three pointer. Bogdanovic followed suit, hitting two of his own, regaining the lead for the Pacers, giving them a 91-89 edge with 2:16 remaining. At that point, they had managed to get the stops, but Bogdanovic’s decision to take over resulted in three straight misses, which included shots around the rim.
The failure to capitalize allowed Boston to regain the lead on a Tatum three and a Matthews miss set up Boston inside for a wide open layup by Gordon Hayward with 12 seconds remaining up three. On the inbounds, Matthews sought out Bogdanovic just beyond the top of the three point arc, but a costly miscommunication had the ball sail above his head, shutting down any hopes of a comeback.
In the end, the Celtics outscored Indiana 10-0 in the final minute of the game, completing a 99-91 victory that puts them ahead 2-0 in the series. For the Pacers, it’s the same old song; missed opportunities forcefully grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory, and they’re suddenly in an 0-2 hole when they saw a path to victory in both games.
While the Pacers can look at what they didn’t do as reasons for their loss tonight, what the Celtics did do was just as important. Not only was Irving tremendous with his game high 37 points, but he got the right amount of help in a 26-point outing from Tatum. Even Al Horford, quiet all night, was crucial in the fourth quarter, scoring four points and being an anchor on the defensive end, holding the Pacers to 0-7 shooting in the paint in the fourth.
For Indiana however, even the best performances were marred with downsides. Bogdanovic scored a team high 23 points, but was just 9-21 from the floor. Collison had 13 on 6-10 shooting, but finished with a team high three turnovers including some serious gaffes defensively.
Young had 15 points, doing well even when Boston forced the offense through him, but his misses were costly, finishing 1-5 from three point range. Myles Turner was a crucial part of the game defensively, especially in the third quarter, but had just eight points on seven attempts, passing up a late three point opportunity.
Evans had the ultimate Jeckyll and Hyde performance, seemingly following up every big time shot with a missed layup, missed free throws, or both of Indiana’s bench turnovers. He finished with 13 points, however, giving the bench some much needed life when the rest of the second unit scored just 13.
Domantas Sabonis in particular continued to struggle, scoring just one point in 22 minutes. With Boston’s wealth of bigs and ability to limit Indiana in the paint, Sabonis has been completely removed from this series after his quick success in the first quarter of Game 1. Aaron Holiday got some run in the first half, scoring the final bucket of the first quarter on an excellent layup off the top of the glass.
From here, the series will shift back to Indianapolis for Games 3 & 4, beginning Friday. Indiana has shown through two games that they’re capable of extending this series, but it will come down to their execution, which hasn’t been there through some very key stretches thus far. The Pacers, now 5-15 on the road without Oladipo, can hope to find some of that much needed execution by simply returning home, where they’re 12-6.