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Jayson Tatum emerges, Boston Celtics dominate Indiana Pacers 135-108

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Rumors of Jayson Tatum’s demise have been greatly exaggerated, as his 20 points powered the Celtics to a dominant win over the Pacers.

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Boston Celtics Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

A four-game homestand proved to be exactly the what the doctor ordered for the Boston Celtics after an uneven Western Conference road trip, as they quieted the red-hot Indiana Pacers with a dominant 135-108 victory in their best offensive performance of the year. For the Celtics, Marcus Morris compiled 22 points and 8 rebounds, Jayson Tatum added 20 points on a team-high 15 shot attempts, and Jaylen Brown contributed on both ends with 22 points, 7 rebounds, a steal, and a block.

The Celtics and Pacers are teams who figure to be keeping a very close eye on one another this year, as they both hold aspirations of a deep run through the Eastern Conference playoffs. This was their second face-off between the two this season. You might remember how the first one ended.

This time, the Pacers found themselves facing a very different Boston team than they did in November’s gritty 102-101 victory. The Celtics shot just 43% from the field in that match-up, which suited the Pacers’ gritty, balanced attack quite well and enabled them to pull out the last-second win. This time, the Celtics flirted with 60% shooting from the field, and enjoyed perhaps their best all-around scoring performance of the season. While Oladipo compiled 24 points and 12 rebounds the first time around, he managed just 17 and three tonight, and never really made his presence felt in the game. All together, it made a recipe for an easy Boston blowout.

Though Morris and Brown would tie for the team lead in scoring for the night, it was apparent from the jump that tonight was the Jayson Tatum Show. In the first 2:30 of the game, he raced out to a quick nine points, and by the time he checked out for the first time midway through the quarter, he had 11 on a perfect 5-of-5 shooting from the field. It was undoubtedly encouraging to see Tatum start so quickly, as he’d been mired in a bit of a slump since the start of the New Year, shooting just 15-of-43 across his past three games.

While the Celtics would jump out to an early 10-point lead behind Tatum’s hot start, the rest of the team shot just 6-of-18 around him for the quarter, allowing the Pacers to worm their way back into the game. This trend would continue early on in the second quarter, which was a bit of a slugfest with neither team really building much of an edge on the other. For about a six-minute stretch, the Celtics’ lead never really grew past five or so points. The Boston offense made some effective plays, but the Pacers hung tight, led by an early seven points for the quarter by Evans.

As the quarter progressed, however, things started to change. For once, the Celtics’ offense avoided the customary second-quarter dry spells, and instead continued to heat up. Tatum pushed his point total to 15 with a pair of buckets, and Brown surged to second on the team in scoring with 11 points of his own for the quarter. The Celtics’ lead steadily ticked forward, and they’d finish with 39 points in the period and a comfortable 15-point advantage at the half. They shot 56% from the field.

You be forgiven for feeling like a Pacers’ run might be coming to open the second half, as the Celtics have rarely strung together solid second and third quarters, but one never came. In fact, they picked up right where they left off, as an Irving jumper put them ahead 20 around the eight minute mark. The Pacers would manage little more than a few mini-runs, and the Celtics would break the century mark with over a minute remaining in the third quarter, thanks to consecutive threes from Terry Rozier. The lead would stretch to 25 at the end of the quarter, and from there, Gino Time was inevitable.

This is a substantial victory for the Celtics, who pull to just 1.5 games behind the Pacers in the Eastern Conference and have now split the season series at one win apiece. The two teams will face off twice more, in the final seven games of the season, and in the all-important race for playoff seeding, those match-ups could take on special importance. Two Celtics wins would secure a head-to-head tiebreaker over Indiana.

This was the first game of a back-to-back for the Celtics, will hit the road once again, taking their talents to South Beach for a showdown with the Miami Heat on Thursday, at 7 PM on TNT.