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Celtics successfully inbound ball, beat the Pacers 114-111

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The game came down to the last inbound once again, but the Celtics clinch their sixth consecutive playoff berth with the win.

Boston Celtics v Indiana Pacers Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Boston Celtics marched into Indiana to face the Pacers and to stop their recent slump and succeeded with a 114-111 win. Jayson Tatum and Gordon Hayward led the way as they keyed a tight Celtics offense that overpowered and overwhelmed Indiana’s defense despite a late run from the Pacers that almost saw Boston choke another 19-point lead.

Gordon Hayward was surgical in the first quarter, and that continued through the rest of the game as he picked apart Indiana’s defense with strong moves and smooth shooting. The Pacers had no answer for him, and that’s why he finished the game with 27 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists – one of Hayward’s best games of the season. When Hayward wasn’t taking over, Tatum (30 points, 6 rebounds) was his usual superstar self (don’t question me; I said what I said). Tatum dazzled the Pacers with an array of stepback jumpers, aggressive moves to the basket and exceptional defense (including 4 steals).

Victor Oladipo looked more comfortable than ever before since his return from a ruptured patellar tendon that kept him out of game action for over half of the year. In the second quarter, he led the way for a Pacers comeback that had Indiana in striking distance near halftime. He finished the game with 27 points and 7 rebounds as well as a season-high 5 three-pointers. He was the catalyst for a late run to bring Indiana back in the game. Domantas Sabonis chipped in 28 points and 9 rebounds.

The Celtics started the game really sharp on offense, and a large part of that was Gordon Hayward’s mastery on offense. He went perfect from the quarter in that frame, hitting midrange shots left and right with little resistance from Indiana’s defense. Although Indiana came back later in the second quarter, that was right about the time when Tatum decided to come alive.

As the second half tipped off, Boston took complete control by making strong plays on both ends to suck the life out of a Pacers team that was missing Malcolm Brogdon. Boston is still without Jaylen Brown, though he may return for Thursday night’s matchup against the Milwaukee Bucks.

Much will be made about Boston’s offense, but their defense also was pretty solid. Indiana wasn’t getting a bounty of open looks, and key defenders such as Daniel Theis (20 points), Hayward and Marcus Smart (16 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists) made impressive plays on that end at different points throughout the game.

Overall, the Celtics looked really good for most of the night, which is very comforting when considering how they’ve looked at times since starting the unofficial second half of the season. Again, though, the team started to crumble in the fourth quarter, particularly after the 6-minute mark. Victor Oladipo went on a scoring barrage and put up several points in a hurry. Boston’s double-digit lead disintegrated before Theis, Tatum and Smart made winning plays in the final minute to pull away for good.

Boston’s inability to hold onto big leads over the last month has been concerning, to say the least.

With tonight’s win, the Celtics clinched their sixth consecutive playoff berth. They’re also 6 wins away from matching their win total from last season. It’s March 10th.

The Celtics sit 3 games behind the Toronto Raptors for the 2nd seed. Currently, they would play the 6th-seeded Indiana Pacers in the first round of the playoffs if the postseason started today. They’ll take on the 1st-seeded Milwaukee Bucks Thursday night at 8 PM EST on TNT.