Heading into Tuesday's match between the Boston Celtics and the Indiana Pacers, one team was riding a two-game winning streak and the other was slipping after losing four in a row. Surprisingly, the Celtics were the team winning games, but their streak was snapped after they lost to the Pacers tonight, 94-83.
Kris Humphries had another great game with 15 points and 9 rebounds, and after a slow first half, Jared Sullinger dominated with 17 points and 9 rebounds in only 27 minutes.
This is not a typo: Andrew Bynum had 7 points and 8 rebounds in the first half for the Pacers. Bynum is now considered a villain, and he fulfilled that role by downright abusing Jared Sullinger on the block. Sullinger, a big man himself, couldn't handle Bynum's sheer size and strength.
Indiana led 49-40 at halftime because of Boston's inability to score in the paint. The Celtics shot only 6-for-18 near the rim largely due to Jeff Green's 1-for-8 performance.
Boston came out and competed hard to start the third quarter, but Paul George got hot and stretched Indiana's lead all the way to 15 at one point. However, Brad Stevens called a timeout to settle his guys down, and they came out and finished the third with an 11-4 run to bring the game within reach, at 69-61.
This run continued on as the Celtics kept pace with Indiana, coming within one point, at 77-76. Rajon Rondo began to create easy plays for his teammates after his slow start and Jared Sullinger turned it on, ripping down rebound after rebound. But the Pacers proved to be too strong by going on a 15-5 run to establish an 11-point lead with only 1:30 left in the game. They went on to win, 94-83.
It's easy to love these Celtics
No player in Boston's locker room will admit it, but tonight's loss was a complete moral victory. Even the Pacers are struggling, they're still one of the best teams in the NBA, and the C's managed to compete with them down to the wire. Rajon Rondo performed poorly to start the game, but he did everything he could to bring the team back in the fourth quarter, establishing himself as the captain.
Jared Sullinger also got owned in the first by Bynum, but responded with a bruising second half. Boston has been down a lot this season, but they're never out. The Celtics fell short of a third win a row, but their efforts continue to be admirable. It's easy to root for this team when they come out every night looking to win, even though their chances at the playoffs are slim.
Bynum's a bully, but so is Sully
Andrew Bynum hasn't played in an NBA game since December 26th yet he jumped right in tonight and immediately bullied Jared Sullinger around. He was leaping over him for rebounds and pushing him off the block for easy scores, which made the 6-foot-9, 260-pound Sullinger look like a high schooler.
But Jared Sullinger came out in the second half and played remarkably well. For the game, he had 17 points and 9 rebounds. In fact, 7 of those boards were offensive, and they weren't circumstantial bounces. He overpowered his man by using his body to carve out space and grab the ball. Sullinger is only in his second season, but his ability to adjust is very impressive. He's not a true center, and the Celtics still need one, but the future is bright for Jared Sullinger.
Settle down, fella
Maybe some fans were a little premature with their declaration that Kelly Olynyk had arrived. The rookie from Gonzaga showed that he has a long way to go in his development after his erratic performance tonight. He scored only 3 points on 1-of-9 shooting, to go along with 7 rebounds and 4 fouls in only 21 minutes of play.
To be fair, the Pacers have one of the best frontcourts in the NBA -- led by Hibbert and West -- but games like this will only help Olynyk develop more. Over time, he'll learn how to match their speed, as well as their strength. Even as the game progressed, he managed to cut down his fouls and improve his defense. Kelly Olynyk hasn't arrived just yet, but he's taking larger steps than he was earlier this season.
Do the hustle
Chris Johnson and Kris Humphries were flying all over the court tonight, showing the heart and hustle that this team needs to win games. Humphries had a terrific first half with 9 rebounds and 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting. He was draining shots from mid-range and helped keep the Celtics in the game all by himself.
Hump didn't play as much in the second half, but that's when the rookie Chris Johnson stepped up. CJ had 14 points on 6-for-8 shooting, with 3 rebounds and 2 steals. Johnson knows his role and makes up for his lack of elite athleticism by hustling more than anyone on the court. He is quickly establishing himself as a legitimate role player in the NBA.
The Celtics will return to Boston for a two-game home stand starting Wednesday against the New York Knicks. On Friday, they'll face the Phoenix Suns. Point guard Rajon Rondo will not play on Wednesday.