For the third straight game, the Indiana Pacers simply weren’t good enough for long enough stretches to allow them to pull out an elusive playoff victory against the Boston Celtics. Once again, a terrible third quarter played a big part in the loss, but at least tonight there were a multitude of shortcomings to point to and commence an eternal yelp of sorrow.
One of those issues cropped up from the opening tip when after a quick 3-0 start, the Pacers fell behind on a 9-0 Celtics run. Boston was able to push that lead into double figures with relative ease in large part due to a blistering shooting quarter. The Pacers, for their part, did play well, but the Celtics were 8-10 from three point range, posting 41 points in the quarter.
Things didn’t go too well defensively for a second unit featuring Doug McDermott, leading Nate McMillan to shorten the rotation early in the second quarter. Down 15, the Pacers were able to finally force stops on Celtics misses, getting excellent shooting on their own end to help chip away at the lead.
Tyreke Evans led the way for the Pacers in the third, scoring 15 of his 19 in the quarter to bring them all the way back, tying the game at 52-52. The starters finished the half on a high note, taking a 61-59 lead into halftime. In the second quarter, the Pacers limited Boston to just 18 points, a healthy dip after the 41-point first.
Myles Turner opened the third quarter with a quality corner three, pushing Indiana’s lead to five. The Pacers would miss their next three shots as Jaylen Brown rattled off four points to cut the lead to one. The Pacers then missed six more shots for good measure, in a nearly four minute stretch that saw the lead flip in favor of the Celtics with the game’s only basket.
After Bojan Bogdanovic finally broke the drought, Turner would put the Pacers back on top with a big and-one play. They would fall behind quickly, but Turner again scored to bring the game to a 71-71 tie. On the opposite end, Kyrie Irving hit a tough three, pushing Boston ahead. The Pacers missed their next five shots because why not, completely failing to capitalize on their ability to simultaneously keep Boston from scoring.
Darren Collison had a rough night overall, making a crucial error late in the third in fouling Terry Rozier on a three point shot, gifting Boston three points on a missed shot. Following a shot clock violation, the Pacers unable to pull in another Rozier miss, setting up Jayson Tatum for a back-breaking three pointer that put the Celtics ahead 80-73 heading into the fourth.
The Pacers were just 5-23 from the floor in the third quarter, scoring just 12 points. They were outscored 21-12 in the quarter, which while not the biggest disadvantage they faced in a single quarter in the night, the struggles in the third were a problem for simply being when it happened.
They would slowly chip away at the lead, getting it to within one on a three pointer and three foul shots by Wesley Matthews. That would be as close the Pacers would get the rest of the night. Irving hit a pair of tough shots, but it was the ensuing five points from Al Horford that really put a cap on the game, taking it from four to seven with under three minutes.
The buzzer sounded with the Pacers falling 104-96, putting them one game away from elimination at 0-3. After shooting 54% in the first half, the Pacers finished the game at just 42%, scoring 35 second half points. The shortened rotation appeared to put a heavy toll on the rest of the lineup, forcing heavy minutes for both Bogdanovic and Thaddeus Young.
Bogdanovic led the starters with 15 points, but logged 40 minutes of action. Young meanwhile scored 11 in 37 minutes. The extra minutes forced a few quick breathers, jumbling up the rotation and lineups in the second half. Evans had a team high 19 points, but was pulled with five minutes remaining in the game with Indiana trailing by just four.
McMillan’s decision to go with Collison late didn’t pay dividends, neither did putting Turner in for Evans, forcing him and Domantas Sabonis to go against Horford, a matchup that Indiana found themselves in numerous times involving Sabonis. Not surprisingly, that didn’t go well very often.
By the time Evans returned, the game was effectively over, adding to a growing list of things the Pacers were unable to do well enough to win. Not doing things well enough has really been Indiana’s calling card in this series. Afterwards, there was a consensus among the team that they lost because they missed shots and didn’t play a full game.
While Boston has had a say in that with their ability to frustrate Indiana’s offense while coming up with just enough big plays late to ride their talent advantage to wins, the Pacers have also kept themselves out of wins simply by their own struggles. Thus far in the series, they are a shockingly bad 12-40 in uncontested shots. In a make or miss league, the Pacers are missing and missing big.
Indiana now finds themselves on the verge of elimination with Game 4 tipping off at 1:00 p.m. Eastern on Sunday. To avoid their second sweep in the last three years, the Pacers are right to suggest they simply need to piece together a full game. Unfortunately, that’s been easier said than done thus far in this series.