The Indiana Pacers dug deep and got gutsy in their first back-to-back of the season, topping the Boston Celtics in the final seconds thanks to a big-time drive to the basket by Domantas Sabonis, giving Indiana the 108-107 victory.
The Pacers shortened their rotation on the second night of a back-to-back with Victor Oladipo resting, but somehow got better as the game wore on, especially from Sabonis. He logged a game high 41 minutes as T.J. Warren and Malcolm Brogdon each eclipsed 36 themselves.
As a team, they actually looked their worst out of the gate, quickly falling behind 15-4. They couldn’t find much of a rhythm in the opening quarter, continuing to misfire from three at a high rate, though they were able to trim the deficit to just four heading into the second quarter at 23-19 thanks to their ability to force turnovers.
They would briefly go ahead in the second quarter, but being forced to chase that double digit deficit proved to be too much for them in the first half, with Boston using a 10-2 run late to break up a tie game, eventually going into the locker room ahead 55-49.
For the third straight game, however, the Pacers stormed out of the half with a purposeful third quarter, outscoring the Celtics 12-0 to start en route to a 39-point quarter. The Pacers were 15-20 in the third, building and then holding a 9-10 point lead even as the Celtics began to find success towards the end of the quarter.
Boston did manage to trim the lead to five heading into the fourth, a mishap pass from Brogdon leading to a breakaway bucket from Payton Pritchard giving Boston two points heading into the fourth. The Pacers held strong in the fourth, responding in kind to each Celtics push, thrice breaking ties in the final six minutes, leading by two heading into the final one.
Sabonis was fouled with 25 seconds on the clock, but split the free throws. A foul on the other end send Jayson Tatum to the line for a pair. Bjorkgren called a timeout to advance the ball, nearly proving a fatal error as Warren was mauled on the inbounds, losing the ball to Marcus Smart for the easy go-ahead layup with 12 seconds left.
Instead of drawing up an isolation jumper for the win, Bjorkgren called upon Sabonis to attack the rim for the win to his left, which he did, drawing an and-one in the process. While he missed the free throw, Indiana’s defense held, with Brogdon contesting Tatum’s deep three to move the Pacers to 3-0 on the season.
For the third straight game, the difference in the game came on Indiana’s third quarter. They outscored Boston 39-28, pushing their third quarter total to 99-59, a staggering +40, which isn’t too shabby for a team that has yet to lead after the first quarter this season. They continue to find success in areas that aren’t limited to shooting percentages as they once again struggled from three point range, shooting 7-26 and were a -7 at the free throw line.
They were able to create extra opportunities through turnovers, especially live-ball turnovers, picking up 11 steals. Everyone on the Pacers registered one tonight except Sabonis, led by Aaron Holiday with three. By the end of the game, the Celtics had matched Indiana’s output in forcing and scoring off of turnovers, as well as rebounding, which may have been part of a mental fatigue setting in.
Whether or not that’s the case, those mistakes made Indiana’s ability to withstand each blow from the Celtics all the more impressive. The Pacers never relented, whether it was Brogdon finding extended success against Smart, Sabonis capitalizing on switches and holding up on defense, or Myles Turner controlling the game on the defensive end, all with Bjorkgren getting Raptors-y in terms of inventiveness.
Sabonis finished the night with 19 points and 10 rebounds, an impressive finish after being shut out in the first quarter and having just 10 heading into the fourth. Once there, he was a force, scoring nine, including a pair of shots at the halfway mark of the quarter against Tristan Thompson to give the Pacers a four point lead, one of which being this excellent spin move.
Sabonis is getting tough in the post. Good patience, uses his body to set up that spin move. Old school hits once, spins on the second hit and finishes. pic.twitter.com/zd2J2CUo8D— Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) December 28, 2020
This was also Sabonis’s best game on the defensive end as well. The Celtics as a team had just 42 points in the paint, shooting under 50% in the paint in the second half. A lot of that is credit to just how well Turner played tonight, but teams have been marching to the basket against Sabonis and he stood up well, even getting his first block of the season.
Turner, meanwhile, continues his tear on the defensive end, blocking five more shots and pulling in seven rebounds to go with 10 points. Turner extends his league best start to 17 blocks, but also got crafty on the perimeter as well, forcing a miss on Jaylen Brown when he was switched onto him late.
Brogdon led the way tonight for the Pacers with 25 points, shooting 11-20 from the field. He seemed to take his matchup against Smart personally, picking his pocket in the third and hitting a big three with Smart on the ground to break one of the game’s many ties late in the fourth.
The Pacers had six double figure scorers in their eight-man rotation tonight, including a 17 point outing from T.J. Warren, who shoots well again at 8-14. Off the bench, Doug McDermott and Justin Holiday combined for 29 points. McDermott made it work inside and out, hitting three from deep and slashing for three more field goals while Holiday did his work inside, going 5-7, scoring three at the line.
The ease in which McDermott and Holiday were able to score was in part due to T.J. McConnell, who had seven assists, doing damage in the fast break. The Pacers as a whole were just plain fun in transition, with outlet passes and lobs add up to 23 fast break points.
The Pacers improve to 3-0, building on their best start since 2013-14 with a wildly fun and gutsy win over a quality opponent. This same matchup will take place again on Tuesday night, with the two game series between the Pacers and Celtics wrapping up, Boston no doubt looking for a statement victory after tonight’s loss.