With the All-Star Break in the rear-view mirror, just 22 games remain for the Boston Celtics. They kicked off the stretch run of the 2022-23 season on Thursday night, with an eye towards the top seed in the Eastern Conference. In their return to the court, the Indiana Pacers may not have seemed like the most intimidating opponent, but they gave the Celtics all they could handle tonight, pushing the game into overtime in what was a spectacular return to regular season basketball. Ultimately, the Celtics made the plays that mattered most, and walked away with a 142-138 overtime win.
Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown led Boston’s scorers with 61 combined points, but the duo also combined to shoot just 20-of-49 from the field in what was a bit of a challenging effort, despite Indiana’s lack of wing depth. They were buoyed by 41 combined points from the bench duo of Malcolm Brogdon and Derrick White, who helped overcome a career night from Myles Turner (40 points, 13-of-15 shooting, eight three-pointers) to take home the win.
You’d be forgiven if you felt like you were still watching the All-Star Game in the early minutes of this game, as defense felt mostly optional in the Celtics’ return from their week off. The two teams posted nearly identical shooting lines, with the Celtics shooting 52% from the field, 42% from three and 86% from the line, while the Pacers recorded marks of 52%, 42% and 85%, respectively. Offensive rebounding made the difference; the Celtics grabbed 11 offensive boards to Indiana’s two, providing valuable second-chance opportunities.
Derrick White was the early star, continuing a hot streak that began weeks before the All-Star Break. Though he returned to the bench with the Celtics’ typical starters fully healthy, he didn’t miss a beat when he returned to the court. He connected on his first four shots from the field — three of which came from behind the arc — and scored 13 points in the first half. Matching him was Brogdon, and the duo drove the Celtics to a 10-point halftime lead, 68-58.
The Celtics’ momentum melted away quickly as play resumed. The Pacers opened up the the second half on an 11-2 run that rapidly slashed the Boston lead down to just one point and prompted a Joe Mazzulla timeout. Leading the way for Indiana was Turner, who was absolutely unconscious from deep tonight (8-of-10 three-point shooting). Tensions rose as the two teams started to bark at one another, and a 39-point third quarter for the Pacers essentially reset the ballgame, as the Celtics entered the fourth quarter with just a three-point lead, 100-97.
Timely shot-making from Tatum and Brogdon provided a slight course correction for the Celtics as the fourth quarter began, but it didn’t fend off Indiana for very long. The Pacers attacked the rim relentlessly, before three-pointers from Turner (his seventh, a career-high) and Benedict Mathurin inched them ahead by two points, 116-114, and prompted a Mazzulla timeout with 5:31 to play.
The two teams traded buckets for the next few minutes, before Tatum found Brogdon in the corner to open up a four-point lead with just over two minutes to play. The Pacers responded with a three of their own from Haliburton, but fouled Brown behind the arc on the ensuing possession to put him on the line for three free throws. Indiana coach Rick Carlisle challenged the play, only for the call to be upheld, but the Celtics took just one point away from the sequence as Brown missed two of the freebies.
Haliburton hit a pair of his own freebies on the other end, and the game was once again knotted up, 125 apiece, with a minute remaining. From there, neither team could conjure anything in crunch time. Both teams went scoreless across the final minute, and the game proceeded to overtime.
After the teams traded two-point possessions, Mathurin hit a three-pointer to put the Pacers ahead by three. On the ensuing possession, however, Mathurin fouled Smart on a three-point attempt and picked up a technical foul for complaining about the call. The result was four free throw attempts for the Celtics, all of which were makes, restoring the Celtics to a one-point advantage. Smart connected on a midrange jumper — giving him seven points early in the overtime period — but Turner responded with his eighth three-point to once again tie the game with three minutes to play.
This game was far from finished with its relentless pace. The Celtics and Pacers continued to scrap for the next two minutes of regulation, before a dunk from Brown gave Boston a 138-136 advantage. Horford was whistled for a foul on Haliburton with 1:16 remaining on the clock, and Mazzulla called for a challenge on the play, but was unsuccessful, and Haliburton once again tied the game, 138 all.
Finally, the game drew to its close. Haliburton put Tatum on the line for a pair of free throws, and after he converted both, the Pacers couldn’t respond with a bucket of their own. Timely offensive rebounding earned Tatum a tip-in layup with 10 seconds remaining to give the Celtics a four-point lead, and that would be the end of the Pacers’ impressive effort for the evening.
Next up, the Celtics have a weekend primetime matchup with implications in the Eastern Conference. They’ll travel to Philadelphia this Saturday at 8:30 PM EST for a showdown with the third-place 76ers on ABC.