Even though the story before the game was the Celtics hectic schedule they opened up their matchup against Indiana with some strong shooting and no signs of fatigue. Al Horford started the Celtics scoring run with an easy inside basket, quickly followed by a mid-range shot from rookie Jayson Tatum and then back-to-back threes from Jaylen Brown put Boston up 10-0 in only the first couple of minutes of play.
Kyrie Irving helped out with some impressive quick-trigger baskets of his own and the Celtics secured a solid lead early in the game. Instead of looking like they were on their last legs this Celtics squad looked like they were ready to run.
The Celtics offensive execution to begin the game was pretty amazing but it was their defense that kept Indiana in check. Closing out on shooters, packing the paint to prevent Indiana from getting inside and most of all communicating with each other and refusing to give up on plays all allowed the Celtics to take control and force the Pacers to make some poor decisions and rush their offense.
The Celtics successful start on offense allowed Stevens to go to the bench early and bring in Marcus Smart and Semi Ojeleye to wreak havoc on the defensive end. Jaylen Brown, who didn’t play in the two teams’ last meeting, was entirely unintimidated by being matched up against emerging Indiana star Victor Oladipo who was also absent from the Celtics and Pacers most recent game.
Marcus Smart, seemingly eager not to miss out on an opening quarter characterised by excellent offensive execution, closed out the first frame with a high-arching long-ball that found the bottom of the net. After an opening quarter where the Celtics looked like they could hardly miss they led by 17 points with the scores at 38-21.
The Pacers emerged with some energy in the second quarter and fought to get back into the game. Indiana’s efforts saw them reduce their deficit but the Celtics weren’t willing to give them much ground so for the most part Boston stayed out in front.
An aggressive slam from Jayson Tatum seemed to solidify the Celtics position as they continued to dominate play throughout most of the second.
Indiana made a few attempts to get back into the game but the Celtics were able to stay in front and maintain control. Disruptive defense and aggressive offense created a perfect marriage of basketball brilliance for most of the first half as the Celtics outplayed Indiana on both ends of the court.
As the teams headed to the locker room at the halftime break the Celtics were still out in front 62-47 Kyrie finished the half leading all scorers with 14 points and 4 assists, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown both scored in double digits but perhaps most impressively Marcus Smart shot 4 of 4 from three-point land simply refusing to miss and racking up 12 points to add to the score at the half.
Yet the focus that had characterised the first half was seemingly absent in the beginning of the third quarter. A few lapses on both ends from the Celtics allowed the Pacers to start to swing some momentum their way.
Free throws proved a problem for both teams with neither side seeing success from the line. Jaylen Brown, who missed a staggering 4 free throws, also found himself in foul trouble after picking up five fouls before the end of the third quarter.
The Celtics managed to stay in front throughout most of the third though, with a big part of their defensive and offensive success being driven by the efforts of Kyrie Irving who was particularly impressive in this game for his utterly relentless approach on both ends of the floor.
Still not entirely convinced Kyrie is human ♂️ pic.twitter.com/RV4BGYtmi9— Boston Celtics (@celtics) December 19, 2017
The Pacers went on a strong run as the third quarter drew to a close but a timeout from Coach Brad allowed the Celtics to collect themselves and stop the Pacers comeback attempt before it could really begin.
Nonetheless, the Pacers were able to edge their way back into the game and make it a real contest heading into the fourth but the Celtics were still in front. The deficit down to 7 the Celtics still held the lead albeit a much slimmer one entering the fourth quarter with the scores at 85-78. However the foul ratio between the two teams had become pretty out of control at this point of the game with the Celtics being called for 25 fouls to Indiana’s 12, something that certainly seemed to impact the scoreline.
The final frame opened with a shootout as both teams went basket for basket for the first few minutes. With only moments left in the game the Pacers took advantage of the Celtics lapse in focus and came at them with full force, tying the score and then stealing a late game lead in a contest that until then Boston seemed to have in hand.
With less than a minute on the clock Victor Oladipo proved why he’s been the talk of the town in Indiana as he made a tough shot to put the Pacers in front at a pivotal moment.
After playing such a strong first three quarters of basketball it was truly disappointing to see this game slip away in the final frame. But Indiana took advantage of the late-game opportunities afforded to them and pushed in front.
The Celtics sought to answer back and found their saviour in none other than Kyrie Irving who made a late bucket that helped keep the Celtics above water. But even Kyrie’s clutch bucket still didn’t put the Celtics in front and needing to beat the clock as well as their opponents with only seconds left in the game required some creative foul play from Brad Stevens.
After some fouls on either side another clutch basket from Kyrie made it a single-point game with less than 10 seconds left on the clock. Sheer havoc ensued on the final Pacers possession as Terry Rozier proved the true saviour of the game when he intercepted a pass and ran for dear life to get the final bucket allowing the Celtics to win the game by a single point.