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Coin flip: 10 takeaways from Celtics/Pacers

Boston loses a toss-up between two very strong team performances.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Indiana Pacers Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Celtics dropped a winnable game last night. They shot well from the field, got 13 offensive boards, and had a chance to seal the deal with a few seconds left.

It didn’t work out, and Boston is now tied 2-2 on the season with Indiana. They will face off again on January 30th to decide the season series.

Shoutout to Adam Taylor for letting me sub in for this piece. I, like many others reading, anxiously await his takeaways after each game, and I’m excited to share mine with you all today. Let’s get it:

#1 Jaylen Brown is him

Brown is really, really good at basketball. He dropped a season-high 40 points in this loss, and should have had a chance to get two more to win it at the end (we’ll get to that later).

Brown was aggressive from the jump, going at former Celtic Aaron Nesmith on his first bucket of the game.

Brown liked the Nesmith matchup all game, and scored on him with plenty of success throughout the night. Saturday night, it was Tyrese Haliburton who got that treatment — but the less-than-stellar defender left the game in the second quarter.

Here’s a clip of those two defenders (Nesmith and Haliburton) getting mixed up on a Brown dunk, courtesy of the usual architect of the 10 takeaways, Adam Taylor.

I’m not sure anyone in the league matches Brown’s talent as a cutter. He has so many options at his disposal when he gets the ball off a slash, and he’s gotten so much better off-ball this season. Plus, his connection with Kristaps Porzingis, who is an excellent post passer, is only getting stronger. That is scary for the league.

Brown ended up with 17 makes on 26 shots, a really great mark to hit in a game without Jayson Tatum. For most of the game, he facilitated well, too. I wish Boston had pulled out the win, so Brown’s best performance of the season wouldn’t get lost.

#2 Point god Porzingis

Speaking of Porzingis’ passing...

For the second game in a row, a Celtics center has led both teams in assists. Porzingis had seven tonight, and Al Horford had eight on Saturday.

Porzingis got his dimes in a bunch of different ways. To start, he is great at drawing multiple defenders and dishing out of the post.

Look at how he patiently prods — with six seconds left — until McConnell goes over to help and leaves Pritchard wide open for three. Not many guys in the league are making that pass.

Next, Porzingis did some dribble-hand-off work as well.

Joe Mazzulla could be a little more creative with Boston’s DHO sets, and Porzingis could commit a little harder to his screens, but this kind of play is really effective with mid-range talent like Jaylen Brown.

Lastly, he can drive and kick. His size demands so much attention inside, so kick outs from Porzingis make Boston’s offense incredibly potent.

Notice how Holiday demands Turner’s attention at the three-point line, and Porzingis takes advantage. Knowing that their seven footer has been beat, two pacers have to rotate and contest, so Horford is wide open for three.

If Porzingis can make all of these reads effectively and consistently, this team is unstoppable. This game was further evidence that the Celtics should run more offense through their seven-foot, three-point-shooting, sweet-passing freak of nature.

#3 Seeing double

Go take a gander at the box score for this game. Notice how every number in the Celtics’ totals is within four of the equivalent Pacers number? Points 131-133, turnovers 15-13, rebounds 42-39, field goal percentage 52.2-52.7, three-point percentage 48.6-47.5...

The list goes on. Boston got a few more offensive boards (13-9), and the Pacers got a few more steals (6-3), but otherwise the stats are in tandem.

Not only that, the stats are all pretty good. both teams shot almost 50% from three, had more than 26 assists, and scored 130+.

There is one notable exception to the mirrored statistics: free throws. The Celtics continue to shoot terribly from the charity stripe despite only really playing guys who are pretty great shooters. Boston shot 20-29 from the line, for a percentage of 69. That is awful, and they would have won the game if it was just bad. But no, it was awful, and they shot just 53% from the stripe last game. It’s a serious problem, and it will continue to lose the Celtics games.

#4 Wishing Tyrese Haliburton a speedy recovery

With three minutes left in the second quarter, Haliburton slipped on a drive, did a split, and was carried off the floor by teammates with a towel over his head.

This is every franchise’s nightmare: The best young player to grace your team in many, many years goes down in a regular season matchup with a serious injury. It was scary to watch.

Good news: Haliburton is believed to have avoided serious injury, and will be reevaluated in two weeks, per Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. Thank goodness.

Haliburton is putting together an incredible season. He’s averaging 23.6 points and 12.5 assists on 50/40/87 shooting splits — just bonkers stuff from the 23-year-old. If this was a normal scoring year, he might even be in MVP contention. I’m excited to see him out on the floor again, hopefully when Boston plays the Pacers again on Jan. 30.

#5 Derrick, are you okay, dear?

You will never catch me slandering Derrick White, but we should check in on him after he scored just 20 points over his last two games.

In Saturday’s matchup, he just didn’t shoot that much. White was 3-6 from the field, and ended with 7 points.

He had more opportunity to make his all-star case last night, taking 16 shots and making only 4.

Of course, he affected the game in other ways, including this sweet fourth-quarter block (the second of two consecutive plays with Derrick White blocks) on Myles Turner...

But he didn’t make his offensive presence felt, for the second game in a row.

White should absolutely be an all-star in Indianapolis this season, but putting up two rough performances — in the arena where the all-star game will take place in just a few weeks — won’t help his odds. That’s our job, so go vote him in.

#6 Season high for Holiday

Jrue Holiday has been great this year, quarterbacking one of the league’s best defenses while putting up 13 points per game on 46% shooting from the field and 42% from deep.

This game was probably his best game of the season, though the matchup with Sacramento from last month might take the cake.

Last night Holiday tied his season-high 21 points, converting nine of his 16 shots. He added in six rebounds and six assists. This is a welcome development from Holiday, who doesn’t always put his fingerprint on a game the way he did in Milwaukee the last few seasons.

What makes me optimistic about his fit on the team is passes like this:

I know, it’s a bad pass to Oshae Brissett, who barely plays, and might not have even been Holiday’s fault anyway. But I love that he’s getting more aggressive moving the ball and creating for guys, especially bench players like Brissett. He is going to get better at that once he knows the team better. Sure, it’s been half a season already, but there is still so much he can get better at in terms of fit and facilitation.

Mark my words: We’re going to get a Jrue Holiday game in the playoffs. He’s going to be a primary creator and carry the team to a W when it matters most.

Until then, I love what he brings on the defensive end.

Look at what he does as a roamer on this defensive play. Cuts off the entry to Turner in the post (Turner is almost a foot taller, by the way), then goes for the steal when Jalen Smith tries to drive. You can’t make a mistake near this guy — he’ll make you pay.

This 2-1-2 defensive scheme didn’t work all the time down the stretch, but what an interesting wrinkle to throw at teams, that allows Holiday to be as special a defender as he pleases.

#7 What a halftime show!

Shouts to Xpogo, who did the halftime show at the Gainbridge Fieldhouse last night. Their high-flying flips and tricks are always a treat to see.

I’m always pleasantly surprised to see Xpogo athletes Nic Patino and Henry Cabelus on TV — I went to high school with them both, and they’re both word-class pogo-stickers, with world records and everything!

The halftime show should match the level of basketball on the court, and these guys passed the test. Both the stickers and the players were putting on some serious displays.

#8 Sacrifice

After the game Holiday and Brown each talked about what it means to be on a team like the Celtics, with five all-star level guys.

Porzingis said recently that Holiday sacrifices more than anyone else on the team, since he was the second option last season in Milwaukee. Holiday got a chance to respond last night.

“For the bulk of my career, I’ve had the ball quite a bit, but — again — we have a really good team,” Holiday said in the presser. “I’m not mad at my situation, I’m not mad at the sacrfices I have to make because... everybody makes them.”

Jaylen Brown also talked about Holiday’s contributions to the squad, courtesy of CelticsBlog’s own Noa Dalzell.

The way this team lifts each other up is rare in this NBA, and Celtics fans should appreciate how much the guys seem to trust and respect each other.

Before I get emotional, back to basketball:

#9 Is this really how it ends?

Listen, Jaylen Brown is an awesome basketball player. That doesn’t mean he has to take this shot to close the game.

He draws three defenders on the drive on this play, because they know he is not going to pass the ball. He puts up a pretty bad shot, with Derrick White wide open at the three-point line and a few other relatively easy passes open as well.

Is that shot the best we can do? Absolutely not, and it happens far too often with either Tatum or Brown. With a few exceptions that kind of shot does not go in.

The best closing shot I can remember the Celtics making was in the game one of the first round of the 2022 playoffs, against the Nets. Brown has the ball, kicks it out to Marcus Smart on the wing, who feeds it to Tatum to score at the rim. What happened to that ball movement?

#10 Officiating was officially awful

I don’t love talking about officiating, but we should talk about this one.

On the aforementioned second-to-last possession, Brown was hunting a bucket with the score tied at 131. He rises up, gets plunked in the head, and then misses the shot. It was a bad shot, but that’s beside the point.

The officials call the foul to send Brown to the line with just three seconds left on the clock. But the Pacers challenge, and despite very obvious contact to the head, the call is overturned. Jaylen Brown said after the game that the official told him that he was not struck in the head. That is such an embarrassing miss for the referees, and cost the Celtics the game.

The one defense for the overturn that makes an ounce of sense is that the officials didn’t want a weak foul call to decide the game for the Celtics.

So instead, they let a weak foul call decide the game for the Pacers. When Benedict Mathurin goes to shoot from three, he flails and jumps into Porzingis, who is straight up and in legal position, to draw a foul. That was his primary motivation, and the officials ate it up. He shot three to win the game.

If it were the second quarter, then call the foul. It’s close, it’s contact, so call it. But you can’t call something like that on the last play of the game, especially after a garbage overturn call. No one should be happy about that kind of officiating.

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