It was another strong effort by the Indiana Pacers, but once again they were unable to come away with a win, losing to the Boston Celtics and extending their losing streak to six. The Pacers never led in this one, but hung tight throughout after Boston jumped out to an 11-2 lead.
The Pacers responded with nine straight for their lone tie, but unlike recent games, they wouldn’t allow the lead to swell beyond 10 thanks in large part to an unstoppable shooting performance from Tyrese Haliburton. Haliburton took charge as a scorer tonight, putting up 20 in the first half on 8-9 shooting (4-4 from three) even though Boston never gave up the lead, leading by seven at halftime.
Boston was on-point all night with their responses. Even as the Pacers routinely cut the game down to 4-6 points, Boston always had an answer either by bucket or through some form of Indiana miscue. The Pacers struggled throughout the night to close out possessions, either allowing second chance opportunities or seeing their stop wind up back in Boston’s hands.
Haliburton scored 10 more in the third quarter before picking up his fifth foul with 4:30 remaining in the third. Lance Stephenson stepped up to guide the Pacers to within one with a bucket and a pair of assists to Buddy Hield and Oshae Brissett three pointers. Unfortunately, Boston outscored Indiana 7-2 to close the third, extending the lead to five.
Jalen Smith and Isaiah Jackson got a lot of run together tonight and it had a positive effect on Indiana’s own second chance opportunities, keeping the game at two possessions. Duane Washington Jr. would break the two-possession wall twice but Boston had a three-point response locked and loaded each time he did.
In the midst of that particular Washington-led stretch, Haliburton returned to the floor, but was immediately whistled for his sixth foul when Jaylen Brown quickly sought to tangle up with Haliburton, getting the favorable call in his direction to disqualify Haliburton. The Pacers weren’t finished though, connecting on three straight threes to cut the lead to two, missing their go-ahead attempt to set up Brown and Jayson Tatum to score the next five.
Brissett’s shooting kept Indiana alive, but the inability to get stops down the stretch sealed their fate tonight as Boston scored on five straight possessions in the final two minutes despite the Pacers scoring on four straight themselves. Boston finished the night at 54% shooting, their fifth straight game of allowing such a gaudy shooting percentage, which shockingly makes it the fifth straight opponent scoring at least 125 points, falling to 0-28 on the season when allowing at least 119.
It was a rare “scoring only” night for Haliburton, finishing with 30 points on 10-11 shooting (6-6 from deep) before fouling out in 26 minutes. It was just the second disqualification of his career and just the third time he’s been called for five or more fouls. He finished the game with a Pacers-low two assists, but did have three steals.
Haliburton managed to hang in there after picking up his fourth early in the third, scoring five more before eventually getting whistled for his fifth. Some of those whistles (including his final foul) might’ve been forgiven in other games, but it was a bit of an oddly called game at times, eventually resulting in 49 violations, 30 of those coming against the blue and gold, one shy of their season high. Everyone had at least two.
Despite this, Boston had just 28 attempts, allowing the Pacers to keep it close by taking 23 themselves. It was that kind of game for the Pacers. Their 15-point advantage in three pointers was wiped out by Boston’s 62-48 advantage in the paint, but there wasn’t another area Indiana could run away with it, cutting it close in fast break points, turnovers, points off turnovers, and second chance points.
Even with Haliburton out, the Pacers still scored well against the Celtics. Lance Stephenson and Buddy Hield combined for 18 of Indiana’s 25 assists, with Stephenson wrapping up a double double with 11 points and 11 assists. Stephenson’s play was a big help with Haliburton out, finding seven different Pacers for buckets while also shooting 4-7 (including a big three late) as well.
Hield meanwhile had a bit of a rougher night outside of his assist numbers. He was just 2-10 shooting with five turnovers. Though his six points were a Pacers low, scoring wasn’t an issue for Indiana tonight even with him struggling especially with Washington stepping up for nine points of his own.
Bitadze wrapped up the double figure scorers with 13, including a nice rim protection streak that resulted a nice block against Daniel Theis.
Jackson looked good in his return, scoring six, including a beautiful feed from Haliburton. His minutes with Smith were enjoyable to behold even if it kept Terry Taylor from recording a single rebound tonight, finishing with eight.
The Pacers have just four games remaining this season, starting with the final two home games against the Detroit Pistons and Philadelphia 76ers. The Pistons will be in Indianapolis on Sunday for a 5:00 p.m. tip in what could reasonably be considered Indiana’s final chance at a win, but the Pistons are also playing at a solid level, entering on a pair of wins, one against the aforementioned Sixers.