With the Celtics down five with two and a half minutes left in the fourth quarter, Jaylen Brown headlined a 7-0 run to take the lead late. Points 37 and 38 came on a strong drive against former teammate Aaron Nesmith. His 40th as a pull-up mid-ranger to pull Boston within 1. With a minute to go, he posted Nesmith again and hit Kristaps Porzingis with a cross court pass for an open 3. After T.J. McConnell tied the game at 131-131 and teams traded empty possessions, the stage was set for Brown to win the game.
After calling a foul on the floor, the Pacers challenge and the call is overturned. Pacers ball. pic.twitter.com/p5pbX0pp0U— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) January 9, 2024
On a baseline jumper, Brown elevated over Bennedict Mathurin and double-clutched after feeling Buddy Hield make contact with his head. Referee Derek Richardson whistled Hield for a foul, but after Indiana head coach Rick Carlisle used his challenge for a review, the NBA replay center reversed the call.
Maybe they should let the players call their own fouls:
Joe Mazzulla says Buddy Hield told him he fouled Jaylen Brown on that last play:— Noa Dalzell (@NoaDalzellNBA) January 9, 2024
“I can’t wait for 4pm tomorrow” pic.twitter.com/WgtGic4Feg
“I’m not bothered, but Buddy Hield told me that he fouled [Jaylen Brown],” Mazzulla clarified. “I can’t wait for the last two minutes report.”
Brown, on the other hand, won’t need the official statement from Secaucus.
“I think he obviously hit me in the head. We definitely have to do some investigation. That’s all I’m going to say,” Brown said after carrying much of the scoring load with Jayson Tatum out with a sprained ankle. “I think that was an obvious one. I’ve never heard of head being part of the ball. It doesn’t make any sense to me.”
"I think we got the right to be upset... that one should be investigated."— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) January 9, 2024
Jaylen Brown gets candid about controversial end of Celtics game vs. Pacers, and the foul on Buddy Hield that was overturned pic.twitter.com/c6O3vmNUgI
After the initial call was reversed, Brown argued referee James Williams that even if Hield touched the ball, he maintained possession and tried to get a shot off despite the head contact. Unfortunately, the three-man crew didn’t see it that way.
“I mean, I told Joe what I told Joe ... they have three refs out there and they had the replay center ... I thought I might have hit him a little bit, but they have three refs out there and they have cameras and they got to slow down the angles of it,” Hield said after the game. “I know I touched the ball but I maybe nicked Brown in the head a little bit. I’m not too sure but it’s the end of the game.”
On the ensuing possession, controversy struck again. With two seconds left, Porzingis smothered a desperation Mathurin 3, but was called for a foul, in effect sealing the game for Indiana in what was possibly an even more egregious error.
The Celtics did plenty to lose the game on their own. Mazzulla talked about letting go of the rope and giving up a 44-point third quarter — a bugaboo of this team that Jrue Holiday acknowledged as well. They gave up twenty points off fifteen turnovers, too.
Later this afternoon, the L2M report might vindicate Mazzulla and Brown’s perspective (and Hield’s, for that matter) of the Celtics’ final possession. But alas, that won’t change the fact that they drop to 28-8 and split the mini-series in Indianapolis and the regular season series 2-2 now. The tiebreaker is later this month in Boston on January 30th.