The Boston Celtics had to have been feeling some type of added motivation heading into Sunday’s battle against the Indiana Pacers. The C’s had followed up a spirited Opening Night win over Milwaukee with a 28-point loss to the Nets on Christmas Day.
Against a fellow Eastern Conference foe in the first of a two-game mini-series, the Celtics were hoping to get off on the right foot.
Boston built an early 11-point lead in the first but seven turnovers committed by six different players allowed Indiana to shrink the deficit to four. Both Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart scored six in the opening frame.
Whereas Brown and Tatum carried the load in the first, it was Jayson Tatum who shouldered the offensive burden all by himself in the second. He had taken two shots up to that point but went 5-of-9 to register a 14-point second quarter to have the Celtics enter the half up by six.
The Pacers wound up building a double-digit lead of their own in the third quarter. They held a 44-24 edge in points in the paint to that point and shot 15-of-20 from the field in the frame. Boston struggled by going just 8-of-22 with neither Tatum nor Brown finding the mark — they both shot 1-of-3 — but the C’s managed to cut the deficit to five heading into the fourth.
The final quarter was a wild affair, one in which neither team could pull ahead enough to put the game away. Down one with under 20 seconds remaining, the combo of Williams and Smart trapped and forced a T.J. Warren turnover that Smart — who appeared to injury himself earlier in the quarter but remained in the game — took the opposite way for a reverse layup to put Boston up 107-106. An and-1 layup by Domantas Sabonis at the other end gained Indiana a one-point lead after a missed free throw.
Tatum had the chance to hit his second game-winner of the young season, but a step-back 3-pointer couldn’t drop, giving Boston its second consecutive loss.
Robert Williams III was the surprise contributor in this one. He came off the bench to post 12 points, three steals and two blocks in 21 minutes, finishing out the game ahead of Tristan Thompson and Daniel Theis.
Another unexpected source of offense was Payton Pritchard, who was a perfect 5-of-5 from the field including 3-of-3 beyond the arc to pump in 12 points off the bench.
Tatum led the way for the Celtics with 25 but shot 9-of-21 from the field. Brown followed behind with 18 on an efficient 8-of-13 night. Four Pacers scored at least 16 points, led by Malcolm Brogdon’s 25.
Boston won’t have to wait long before a chance at redemption. They’ll go back to Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Tuesday for a rematch with the Pacers at 7 PM EST.