The Boston Celtics were put to the test on Thursday night. In their first game back from the All-Star break, they took on the Indiana Pacers - a team that has given them plenty of trouble over the last calendar year.
Despite jumping out to a couple of solid leads, the Pacers acted as a constant thorn in Boston’s side. The game ended up going to overtime and while the Celtics were able to grind out a victory, it was one of their more grueling contests of the season.
“Nothing like a 41-minute overtime night straight from the break,” Jayson Tatum told NBC Sports Boston. “I’ll take it, though. Good win.”
Both Tatum and Jaylen Brown cracked the 40-minute mark in the victory, with three other Celtics players logging at least 33 minutes in the game.
Indiana seemingly made it their job to cause bedlam. Myles Turner put up a 40-point night with eight made threes, Tyrese Haliburton got into a scuffle with Marcus Smart, and TJ McConnell even mocked Luke Kornet’s infamous Kornet Kontest.
“I like those games. I like those moments,” Jaylen Brown told NBC Sports Boston post-game. “The other team was talking a little bit. Those young guys were hungry. I thought that we answered the challenge and found a way to win the game. And it’s gonna be a lot more of that we’re going to need throughout the season.”
Boston’s role players weren’t the only ones to find themselves involved in the circus, though. Tatum also got into a tussle when he found himself fighting for the ball with Pacers rookie Bennedict Mathurin. The near-30-second altercation was one of the more memorable moments of the evening.
Neither Bennedict Mathurin nor Jayson Tatum wanted to let go of this ball pic.twitter.com/Jdkm1RoxAv— Action Network (@ActionNetworkHQ) February 24, 2023
“Chaos,” Tatum told NBC Sports Boston, describing the incident. “The refs telling us to let go. Mathurin saying he wasn’t letting go, and I for sure wasn’t letting the ball go. Those plays can be big, right? That gives you momentum. The team sees, whether it’s the best player, or the youngest player, or the oldest player, dive on the floor, fighting for the ball, right? You come up with that ball, the team feeds off that energy. You could see everybody was excited and hyped, and I think that kind of was one of the big moments of the game, and it was very important to me. I was not letting go of that basketball.”
Tatum may have won the battle against Mathurin, but his shooting didn’t exactly win the war. The Celtics superstar struggled with his shot all night long. He finished the game with 31 points, 12 rebounds, and seven assists, but his efficiency was poor, hitting just 9-of-25 from the floor and 3-of-12 from distance, including a 1-for-8 first half from the field.
“It was either I left all my shooting in Utah or [I’m] still drunk from vacation,” Tatum said. “That’s how I played tonight. I had a good stat line, but really not a really good game. Glad we won, and just tried to find ways to make plays on both ends just so we could win, and everybody [would] feel better about themselves.”
The powers that helped Tatum win All-Star Game MVP in Utah just a few days prior did not travel with him to Indiana, but Boston was able to pull out a win regardless of his rough shooting night.
Big-time performances from Malcolm Brogdon (24 points) and Derrick White (17 points) spearheaded the Celtics’ win, helping them steer the ship in the right direction heading to the postseason. And now that the cobwebs have been shaken off after a week-long break, they can focus all of their attention on the final stretch of the regular season.
“It was big,” Tatum said. “The first game back can always be a little tough. Everybody’s been on vacation or took a break or whatever. And everybody in the league is kind of in the same boat - first game back, been off for a week. So, regardless of who you’re playing, the first game is usually always tough, and a good one to win.”