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Horford, Irving and Tatum key the comeback: 10 takeaways from Celtics/Pacers Game 2

Boston dominated the fourth quarter to take a 2-0 series lead

NBA: Playoffs-Indiana Pacers at Boston Celtics Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

1. Game 2 played out similarly to Game 1, but with a one quarter delay. In Game 1, the Celtics picked up the intensity on defense in the third quarter, and followed it up with some good offense to run away with the game. In Game 2, it took until the fourth quarter for things to come together. But when it did come together, boy did it ever come together.

The Pacers shot just 4-of-17 from the field in the fourth quarter. Even more remarkable, all four made shots were three-pointers. Indiana went 0-for-9 on shots inside in the arc. This is believed to be the first time in the history of the NBA Playoffs that a team hasn’t made a two-point basket in the fourth quarter. It was as dominant a defensive quarter as Boston has played since Kevin Garnett was wearing green and white.

2. Going back to the start of the game, the Celtics and Pacers were making everything early. They looked nothing like the two teams who had a rock fight in Game 1. Indiana built the early lead because Boston was sloppy with the ball. Once again, early turnovers were a problem for the Celtics, as they had four in the game’s opening frame. This is something Boston will need to clean up as the series shifts to Indiana.

3. Part of the Celtics struggles early came from Jaylen Brown. Brown has spent the majority of the season coming off the bench and has adapted to that role quite well. He comes in the game as if he was shot out of a cannon. That allows him to use his speed and athleticism to overpower tiring starters and outmatched backups. When Brown plays like that as a starter, it’s negated by fresh legs and better talent. It results in him being out of control and it takes him out of the game. Once he slows down a bit, everything settles in place for him. Where his youthful exuberance did show up was in the fourth quarter, as Brown looked fresh as a daisy, while others were running on fumes.

4. Brad Stevens said he wanted to get more minutes for Terry Rozier and Kyrie Irving together. In general, this isn’t a bad idea. Boston has gotten a lot out of playing Irving off the ball, but it’s usually come with Marcus Smart doing the playmaking. With Smart out of the lineup, Rozier has to take over that role.

The important thing is that Rozier actually play that role of playmaker. This doesn’t mean over-dribbling and launching contested fallaway jumpers as the shot-clock expires. That was Rozier in the first half. In the second half, he did a very credible Smart impersonation. He was aggressive on defense and focused on moving the ball and setting up his teammates. That’s the Rozier Boston needs while Smart is out.

5. The Pacers changed their defensive gameplan in a big way. Indiana plays straight-up, man-to-man defense with very little switching. Nate McMillan believes in his players’ abilities to defend their man without help. In Game 2, the Pacers went away from some of that.

The first thing Indiana did was to send strategic doubles at Al Horford. They generally did this as soon as Horford picked up his dribble. This resulted in several turnovers, as well as throwing Boston out of rhythm early on.

The second tweak was the Pacers started switching more. This didn’t go as well as the doubling did. The Celtics got several easy baskets off blown switches, including in the second quarter. Indiana largely dumped this tactic in the second half, which helped them build their lead in the third quarter.

6. The Celtics comeback was built on the backs of their three best players. First up is the veteran leader. Horford dominated the fourth quarter. The stats will show you he scored four points, grabbed four rebounds and blocked one shot. That’s just kind of “meh”. Look deeper.

Horford played the entire period, after playing the last 2:24 of the third period. Reminder: Horford was questionable to play at all due to an illness, but played the final 14:24 of a playoff game. That he was able to go that long without a rest was enormous for Boston. The other bigs weren’t having much of an impact, so that left it to Horford to carry the day.

Also, note the far right-hand side of the fourth quarter for Horford. Just like the Celtics held a 31-12 advantage in the fourth, so did Horford at +19. Finally, actually watch the end of the game. His defensive versatility shut down just about everything Indiana wanted to do. It was a signature performance for a player who is anything but average.

7. The second player to key the comeback was Irving. He was good offensively all night, but he saved some special stuff for the second half. We won’t waste a lot of words, when you can watch his brilliance. But let’s just say this one last time: The Celtics are NOT better without Kyrie Irving.

8. The final player who had a major hand in the comeback was Jayson Tatum. Tatum scored 26 points, including 10 in the fourth quarter. He also made three plays that really sealed the game for Boston. Let’s go through them one by one.

9. The game’s biggest play featured Horford starting the sequence by defending Bojan Bogdanovic one-on-one and blocking him at the rim. Then Brown pushes in transition and finds Tatum in the corner for the go-ahead triple:

Horford’s defense was awesome, as was Tatum’s shot. But Brown makes what Stevens called “one of the best of his career” by pushing the ball and making the pass to Tatum. That might be a bit of hyperbole, but it’s not a pass Brown would have made in his first two seasons. He would have put his head down and bull-rushed the rim no matter who was in front of him. Great to see the Celtics kids link up and make a huge play like this.

10. Then Tatum clinched things with two big back-to-back plays. With Boston up by one point, He drove and found Gordon Hayward for the layup to put the Celtics up by three:

And then Tatum capped the night with a hammer dunk, as Indiana was scrambling to try and foul to extend the game. Overall, this was one of Tatum’s best playoff performances in his young career.

Final Thought: Boston did what was expected and had to happen by winning both games at home. They can’t afford the early sloppiness in the next two games in Indiana. But it’s clear to see that the Celtics have far more talent, especially offensively, than the Pacers do. If they Celtics are focused on defense and make the right plays on offense, there is a good chance the next game in Boston is Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

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