The Indiana Pacers very nearly erased 33 minutes of terrible basketball with one fourth quarter run, but didn’t have enough in the final two minutes to stave the Boston Celtics. The Pacers successfully erased a 19-point third quarter deficit, going up 107-104 with 2:14 remaining, but one Pacers miss and one Celtics make was all it took to swing the game back in Boston’s favor.
A slow start all but doomed the Pacers in this one. The Celtics, led by Gordon Hayward early, helped storm them into a seven point lead, then eight, then double figures, leading by as many as 13 before the end of the first quarter. However, even though Boston had no trouble building a lead on the Pacers, it wasn’t an outright dominating performance that put them there. In a sense, Indiana was making their own bed.
The struggles to close out possessions, on either side of the ball, hung over Indiana as Hayward’s efficiency shifted into a Jayson Tatum led showcase. The Celtics, edging that led to 15 halfway through the quarter, had gotten 33 of their 48 points out of Tatum and Hayward, the same number of points the Pacers had to that point.
Victor Oladipo lifted the Pacers as a response, scoring eight in a 15-4 Pacers run that ultimately brought them to within four. That deficit would quickly balloon, however, as one missed shot and one turnover was all it took to allow the Celtics to end the half on a 7-2 run, leading by nine and winning the quarter.
Indiana’s complete inability to seize any sort of momentum hit its low point in the third quarter. Hayward scored 10 points out of the break to nearly double the lead and a laborious 4-0 run just past the midway point of the quarter was quickly snuffed out on back-to-back Boston threes, pushing the lead to a game high 19.
Even while this was happening, and again later when four straight Boston points again nipped the inklings of life from the Pacers, Indiana was scoring with relative ease. It just so happened that so was Boston. The Pacers were at a clear disadvantage in both three point shooting and free throw shooting, but beneath it all, the novel idea of getting stops kept the door open ever so slightly heading into the fourth, down 14.
Five minutes into the fourth quarter, the Celtics pushed that advantage two points higher, leading 102-86. It was then that Indiana finally found their spark, nourishing a flame behind five points from T.J. Warren on second chance putbacks. Then five more from Oladipo made it a six point game with 4:35 remaining. The door was open.
Tatum snapped the run at the rim, but Oladipo refused to let the game swing back in Boston’s favor. After scoring on the next possession, he then pulled up in transition to drill a big time three in Winning Time.
Warren extended the run with a corner three of his own, tying the game at the three minute mark. After turning up the defensive intensity to force a shot clock violation, Oladipo found Domantas Sabonis for an and one layup, putting the Pacers up 107-104 with 2:14 remaining. Myles Turner blocked Tatum, sending Indiana back into transition.
Looking for the knockout blow, Oladipo flew up the court, pulling up from deep, and...finally missed. On the other end, Daniel Theis found himself wide open at the top of the arc, drilling his second three of the night to tie the game. Oladipo would get to the line to put Indiana ahead by two, but the Celtics used the Theis three to attack inside, outscoring the Pacers 8-2 to go up by three.
Indiana did have the ball on the final possession with a chance to tie, but in taking forever to inbounds, they were unable to find a consistent play. They eventually settled for a contested look from Justin Holiday, falling well short of the basket and dropping the Pacers into the loss column.
The Pacers did well to fight back, outshooting the Celtics on the night, but the differences surrounding their ability to score was too much to overcome. Oladipo closed the three point with his superb 5-7 shooting performance from deep, but the Pacers had just nine makes as team. Boston meanwhile had 13, getting at least two from each of their starters. Only Holiday matched Oladipo with multiple threes for Indiana.
The Pacers also struggled all night to win 50/50 possessions. The Celtics throughout the night had the right tips, the right reads on passes, and the right finds to completely shut down Indiana’s signs of life throughout the game. Once the Pacers started winning those battles, starting on Warren’s back-to-back buckets off of offensive rebounds, they were able to take full advantage to come back and eventually take the lead.
Oladipo pieced together a tremendous outing, looking like the Vic of old by scoring a season high 27 points on 9-16 shooting. His first 11 points came in the second quarter, dragging the Pacers to within four late in the quarter, setting the blueprint for what would come in the fourth.
He scored 10 straight in the fourth to again put the Pacers within three. Unlike the second quarter, however, the Pacers got the stop, eventually building themselves a lead. His decision to pull up for the transition three up three may have gone too far in swinging the game away from Indiana, but it was that same kind of shot that brought Indiana back into the game in the first place.
Outside of Oladipo’s second quarter stretch, the Pacers were largely bereft of any real highlights. The exceptions came from their bigs up front. After combining for 36 points on Sunday, Sabonis and Turner had 44 tonight, led by Sabonis with 28. The lack of size up front allowed the Pacers to dominate in the paint, outscoring Boston 64-40.
Of course, part of that had to do with the difference they faced at the free throw line. For the game, the Celtics outscored Indiana 19-10. This was a sticking point of the Pacers all night, leading to two technical fouls from Warren and Nate McMillan, pleading for some level of consistency in whistles.
Warren finished with 22 points, but was clearly frustrated by the lack of whistles. It affected his night as a whole early, but he was able to be a driving force for the Pacers late following his back-to-back putbacks that sparked Indiana’s late game run. Turner led the way with four blocks, sending away two from former Indiana Mr. Basketball Romeo Langford.
However, the Pacers were unable to capitalize on those plays, scoring just two points on three possessions, while allowing three points. The Pacers as a whole couldn’t capitalize in the same way they did against Dallas. They edged Boston 12-10 in fast break points and were outscored 15-14 in points off turnovers.
Elsewhere, it was a struggle finding consistent performances. J. Holiday led the second unit with eight points, hitting a pair of triples. Unfortunately, the bench as a whole had just 14 points, including zero points from JaKarr Sampson, just missing on what would’ve been a massive putback dunk.
Aaron Holiday had been a quiet positive for the starters in his recent games, but was unable to hide his shooting struggles in this one. After moving back into the rotation just over two weeks ago, Holiday has shot just 35%, including 2-9 tonight. The previous losses to Toronto and Milwaukee were so lopsided that his shooting wasn’t playing a determining factor between a win and a loss, but in a third straight loss to a top three Eastern Conference opponent, it was apparent tonight, the lone starter for both teams to not break double figures, scoring just four.
While Indiana can point to injuries or returning home from a long road trip to this loss, that doesn’t excuse how badly Indiana was through the majority of this game. However, it wasn’t much different the last time these two teams met. Through two games, the Pacers have outscored Boston 69-43 in the fourth quarter, something that can hopefully benefit Indiana should these teams meet again in the playoffs.
In the meantime, the Big Ten Tournament will take center stage for the rest of the week at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Instead of sending the Pacers back out on the road, it will instead result in a rather lengthy layoff as the Pacers play just one game over the course of the next week, a road matchup against the Philadephia 76ers.
The fifth seed may very well be tied up by the time they face each other on Saturday as the Sixers open a four game homestand against Detroit tomorrow night. Philadelphia is a league best 28-2 at home, which will put more pressure on Indiana to win that game should they still expect to be in fifth when they play again next Wednesday.