With home court advantage on the line against this very Boston Celtics team, the Indiana Pacers resigned themselves to open their upcoming playoff series on the road following a disappointing loss at home. The Pacers were never allowed to get comfortable against a keyed in Boston defense, and things got out of hand fairly quickly when Indiana didn’t return the favor.
A competitive first quarter between the teams was one that Indiana was left with a sense of missed opportunities. They led by three, but shot just 50% in the paint, keeping them from capitalizing on a perfect quarter in terms of turnovers. Unfortunately, that went against them with two quick turnovers to start the second.
The Pacers went back and forth early in the quarter thanks to five points from Aaron Holiday, but Boston turned their trust to individual players, getting 15 straight points from Jayson Tatum and Gordon Hayward to push the Celtics ahead by six. A perplexing no call on an Al Horford elbow to Cory Joseph would result in a tough Kyrie Irving bucket as the Celtics took a double figure lead on an 8-0 run.
Indiana was outscored 34-20 in the second quarter, putting them down 11 at the break. While they shot under 40%, the Celtics were up above 55%, a troubling combination for a Pacers team looking to make a statement. Down 11 out of the half, the Pacers did show signs of life offensively, scoring on five of their first seven possessions.
Unfortunately, none of those positives offensively resulted in an encouraging response defensively, allowing Boston to respond to each and every basket. The Pacers scored just two baskets in the entire quarter that wasn’t responded to by Boston, failing to return the favor with their own misses from the floor and at the free throw line, again losing a crucial quarter big, falling 33-27.
The Pacers were never in the game from that point on, getting outworked on both ends as the Celtics cruised to the easy and defining road win. With all said and done, the Pacers were thoroughly outclassed by one of the best versions of this Boston Celtics team, offering up little to no resistance in keeping pace offensively.
They shot just 41% for the game, partially due to missed shots, but largely due to Boston’s ability to frustrate them offensively. The looks weren’t there for the Pacers, and no one played comfortable outside of perhaps Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis. Bojan Bogdanovic in particular was completely removed from the game, scoring just four points on 1-8 shooting, his lowest output since October.
Cory Joseph continued to struggle shooting the ball, which amplified the continued absence of Darren Collison despite Joseph’s positives defensively. He did make a pair of buckets in the third that may be encouraging, but in the meantime, his lack of scoring punch hinders the Pacers tremendously against a team like Boston.
Sabonis was a wrecking ball early, scoring eight points in just over two minutes in the first quarter, but was held to just four the rest of the game, with just six rebounds. T.J. Leaf did rebound well offensively, but lacked any touch on his putbacks, going scoreless on 0-8 shooting, another missed opportunity for the Pacers to manufacture easy points.
Turner finished with a team high 15, looking perhaps the most capable in scoring, hitting some tough shots in spots everyone else was missing. However, he had just eight attempts, getting little work in an offense that really struggled to find itself against the Celtics defense. Despite that, when Indiana was able to move the ball, they did find success. Their poor shooting was met with a solid assist/field goal ratio, getting 24 assists on 38 field goals, shining some rare positive light on an otherwise abysmal showing.
In some respects, tonight was an extreme case for both teams. Hayward was a perfect 9-9 from the floor for 21 points, joining Tatum and Irving as the three leading scorers for the game. For the Pacers, they can easily look better in a lot of areas. However, the overall trend of the upcoming series was on display in showing just how difficult it will be for the Pacers to outlast Boston across seven games, especially now that they lack homecourt.
For the Celtics, their depth opens up a number of different ways in which they can win on any given night and they did what they did tonight despite going just 7-27 from three point range. If Indiana hopes to have a response to a Kyrie Irving Night or a Gordon Hayward Game, they’ll have to manufacture it in a way that is beyond the averages for their talent.
Nights like this in the Playoffs will be where they really feel the absence of Victor Oladipo, but it won’t do any good for them to simply wish he was there. Collison can obviously help in terms of scoring, but ultimately, the one area Indiana can’t be beat in is the area they were ultimately worn down in tonight: effort.
Outworking the Celtics is Indiana’s one true edge. It’s how they gave themselves a chance in Boston a week ago, and it’s how they’ll have to stay alive in Games 1 & 2 in hopes of stealing home court before coming home. It’s disappointing to think about how the Pacers will have to open up the Playoffs on the road for a fourth straight year, but unfortunately, it’s the reality of their situation.
In the meantime, the Pacers will have two games remaining in their regular season campaign. The fourth seed is actually still in play, but it will require a 2-0 finish while the Celtics drop their last two. The third seed is also still within reach for the Celtics, creating an outside chance the Pacers will actually face the Philadelphia 76ers.
The Pacers will face the Brooklyn Nets in the final home game of the regular season on Sunday. Whether Nate McMillan and the coaching staff resign themselves to the fifth seed and opt for rest heading into the postseason remains to be seen, but the Nets themselves are still fighting for a spot in the Playoffs, giving the Pacers another opponent with everything on the line.