The first loss of the season for the Indiana Pacers came in disappointing fashion as they stumbled late against the Boston Celtics, getting outscored 33-17 in the fourth quarter after building a 17-point lead in the third. The turnaround came quickly, starting with a 12-6 Boston run to end the third and extending into an 11-0 Celtics run to start the fourth.
Once there, the Pacers couldn’t stop the bleeding. Jayson Tatum led the Celtics unit against Indiana’s bench, forcing the tie and then helping to push their lead to nine with four minutes left in the game. Indiana did climb back into it. They methodically chipped away, cutting the deficit to two with a minute remaining.
After a stop, the Pacers had the ball with 30 seconds left out of a timeout, but Justin Holiday, subbed in for a fouled-out T.J. Warren, lost the ball in traffic, setting up an easy two points for Jaylen Brown. Two plays later, down four, Victor Oladipo’s dish to Domantas Sabonis went awry when Sabonis took his eye of the ball, sealing the 116-111 loss, dropping the Pacers from the ranks of the unbeaten.
The fourth quarter was especially disappointing given how well they had played in the third. Warren, had big third quarters, pushing a one-point deficit into a double figure lead with relative ease. Warren had 15 of his 17 in the third, pulling up for his patented high difficulty shots.
Unfortunately, the second unit plus Sabonis didn’t hold up against the Tatum-led second unit of the Celtics. Perhaps Nate Bjorkgren waited too long to call the first timeout of the fourth (the Celtics had ran off eight straight to start the fourth) or held onto the bench for too long (it was the 6:36 mark when the starting lineup returned), but the Pacers were well out of sync even once the starters did return, allowing a 9-0 run to put Boston up nine.
The Celtics did a much better job containing Sabonis tonight. Where Indiana had made enough adjustments to make Sabonis a force in the first game, he never really got comfortable tonight, scoring just 14 on 5-12 shooting, needing to create offense through his passing, where he did have a game high eight assists, including a beauty late to tie the game up before the starters returned.
One of the ways the Celtics were able to lead throughout the first half and keep the game from getting too far out of hand in the third was thanks to their rebounding. Tristan Thompson struggled in the first matchup, but was a force on the glass tonight, pulling in seven of Boston’s 12 offensive rebounds.
The Pacers meanwhile had just four, giving the Celtics a 14-4 advantage in scoring off of those rebounds. They did do a better job in the second half of limiting Boston’s success on the glass, but the breakdowns did give Boston four extra points in their comeback attempt.
Indiana also flipped their three point shooting off in the second half as well. They matched their season high of nine made threes in the first half, shooting 50% before the break. After, however, they were just 3-15, including 0-6 in the fourth quarter when they needed any number of those to go down to keep the game from slipping away.
They weren’t able to make up for the missed threes by drawing fouls, getting outshot 37-16 at the free throw line. The Celtics had three players with 10 attempts, while Indiana’s top shooters had just four. Indiana’s inability to defend without fouling also kept them from effectively forcing turnovers, forcing a season low 14 and eventually losing the points off turnover battle 21-16 despite having just one extra turnover.
Though the end result left a lot to be desired, there were a lot of positive individual performances throughout, led by Oladipo, who had 24 points, six rebounds, and six assists. Oladipo looked good against Chicago, but he looked downright vintage tonight, not only as a scorer, but as a playmaker, where he got guys involved all night.
The three point shooting early was a boon for both Myles Turner and Justin Holiday. Entering the game a combined 2-21, they finished 5-11 (4-5 in the first half). Turner was a greater focus of the offense with Sabonis being targeted, finishing with a season high 16 to go with six rebounds and three more blocks.
Holiday finished in double figures with 12, stepping up big defensively with four steals. Unfortunately, him being forced to be a ballhandler late resulted in a costly turnover, but he was a bright spot beyond that mistake. Malcolm Brogdon scored 19 with seven assists, joining Turner with a team high three made triples. He closed the first half strong to help keep pace with the Celtics and kept their hopes alive in the closing seconds with a layup.
The loss drops the Pacers to 3-1, tying them at 1-1 head-to-head against Boston. Winning tonight would’ve locked the season series in Indiana’s favor, but they’ll have to secure that tiebreaker in Boston when the teams are scheduled to meet at the end of February.
In the meantime, the Pacers will face another now no-longer-undefeated team in the Cleveland Cavaliers on New Year’s Eve. The Pacers lost both meetings to the Cavs in preseason, but that familiarity should work in Indiana’s favor as they rested their starters in both games. The tip will be an early work, 3:00 p.m. Eastern, leaving plenty of time for everyone to...probably not do anything this year.