The Celtics couldn’t quite pull themselves out of the huge hole they dug themselves into in the first half
Needless to say, the Boston Celtics entered Wednesday night’s game against the Indiana Pacers hoping for a reversal of fortune. Losers of four out of their last five games — including consecutive home losses to the Orlando Magic — there was some urgency building for the Celtics to rediscover their early-season success. But while an inspired second half put the game within reach, a miserable, lackadaisical start that saw Indiana rush ahead by as many as 30 points proved too much to overcome, and the Celtics lost their fifth game in six outings, 117-112.
Jayson Tatum shrugged off a rough first half to score 41 points on 13-of-25 shooting from the field, but it often felt like he was tasked with carrying the entire team shoulders. With the Celtics lacking Marcus Smart (non-Covid illness), Jaylen Brown shot just 8-of-23 and the Boston supporting cast — outside of Malcolm Brogdon (18 points) Sam Hauser (4-of-8, 10 points) — struggled to make any impact. For Indiana, Tyrese Haliburton reasserted his All-Star case with a 33-point, 8-assist performance, while old friend Aaron Nesmith tacked on 15 points as a Pacers starter.
A quick start from the Jays (11 points in the early minutes) didn’t fend off Indiana for very long. The Pacers started the game shooting just 1-for-9, but their mini-slump gave way to a frankly stunning 26-2 over nearly six minutes of the first quarter. Leading the surge was the like All-Star Haliburton, who had his way with the Boston defense to the tune of 15 points and 5 assists in the opening quarter. The Celtics looked almost completely listless entering the second, trailing by 20 points, 42-22.
The good news in the second quarter was that the Boston defense managed to stymy the Indiana offense much more effectively than in the first. The bad news was… well, just about everything else. They held the Pacers to “just” 29 points in the quarter, but managed just 21 of their own in the process as the Indiana lead swelled close to 30. The Celtics’ 34% shooting mark in the first half simply did not cut it, and they trailed the Pacers 71-43 at the halftime break.
As play began in the second half, Tatum finally found his stride. After scoring just 8 points in the first half, he scored 15 in the third quarter and spurred a Celtics squad that finally seemed to be reinvigorated. The supporting cast woke up alongside him, with Pritchard, Horford, Hauser and Brogdon cashing in on threes as part of the surge. What was once a nearly-30 point Indiana lead was burned down as low as 11. Hopes of a single-digit deficit entering the fourth were dashed, however, as Chris Duarte connected on his second quarter-ending buzzer-beater of the game to put the Pacers ahead 15, 100-85.
With the fourth quarter underway, the Celtics’ big test became whether they could finally crack that single-digit barrier. While they maintained something of an edge on the Pacers on the scoreboard, that threshold proved difficult to attain. Down 11 with just over six minutes to play, Tatum split a pair of free throws, and moments later, he cashed in a three-pointer to bring Boston within eight points.
The Celtics would pull as close as five points, after Brown connected on a three-pointer with three minutes remaining in regulation, but unfortunately, that was as far as they could get. The shot-making of the Pacers, led by the tenacious playmaking of Haliburton, was just a bit too much to handle, and the comeback ultimately fell short, as Indiana handed the Celtics their 10th loss of the season,
Next up, the Celtics will host the uneven Minnesota Timberwolves at TD Garden this Friday at 7:30 PM on NBC Sports Boston.