The Celtics, on the power of an explosive second half, took Game 1 of their first-round playoff series against Indiana with Sunday’s 84-74 win.
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It was a game stripped of aesthetics and replaced by something that the absent Marcus Smart would have especially appreciated – an effort dictated by defense and a grind-out style of basketball.
Al Horford thought back to a truly rare first half moment, when what he thought would be an easy dunk off the break was rejected at the rim by Indianas Thaddeus Young. And when Jayson Tatum attempted to open the third quarter with a drive, Myles Turner was there to send it back. Welcome to the playoffs.
They were great tonight, getting back in transition, Horford said of the Pacers. First half tonight I get my shot blocked, I thought I had a dunk for sure, then Thad comes out of nowhere. Tatum started the third, we think he has a layup, Turner blocks it, just one of those gritty games. You have to continue to do those little things.
For all of their early mistakes, the Celtics only trailed by seven points (45-38) at halftime. It was apparently a sign from the basketball gods.
In his first playoff game as a Celtic, Irving became just third player in franchise history to have 20-plus points, five-plus assists and five-plus rebounds in his postseason debut with the team. He joined Isaiah Thomas in 2015 and JoJo White in 1972.
Their 22-3 run over the first 8:04 of the third quarter coincided with an arctic stretch from the Pacers, who missed 12 of their first 13 shots and finished the third 2-for-19 from the floor with five turnovers. The first of the two made shots was Horfords goaltend of Cory Joseph.
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For a Celtics team that had shot 13-for-40 in the first half, and thanks to a revived Marcus Morris (15 first half points) only trailed by seven points (45-38) after the first 24 minutes, the halftime break appeared to make all of the difference.
Kyrie Irving overcame a seven-point, 3-for-10 start to finish with 20 points on 6-for-17 shooting, and Morris matched him with 20 points and seven rebounds.
But Brad Stevens disagrees with the suggestion that the Celtics began the 2019 playoffs a little tight.
Youre building a franchise. Say you have two stars already. Now, which surrounding cast would you rather have: those around Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum or those around Paul George and Russell Westbrook? Its no question after OKC and Portlands opening playoff game. The Blazers bench may have been outscored 21 to 18, but they were nearly perfect from 3, while the Thunder reserves went 0-for-9 from deep. Enes Kanter isnt the player Steven Adams is—obviously, the Thunder kept one and let one go—and yet he had a revenge game, scoring 20 points along with 18 rebounds, two assists, two blocks, and a steal—two blocks and 11 defensive rebounds against the coach who previously assessed Kanters defense as unplayable. Lillard and McCollum totaled more points (54) than Westbrook and George (50) but had less pressure on their shoulders. No Thunder player outside of George and Terrance Ferguson managed a make from beyond the perimeter; Oklahoma City shot 15.2 percent from 3.
Thats not fair to Indiana, said the Celtics coach. Those guys guarded their butts off and that looked like a 1980s playoff game with the score. Its tough – those guys are tough and physical and for us to say we were just tight and we missed shots would not be fair to them. They were tremendous defensively and did some things a little differently than they had (in the last two games of the regular season) in a lot of ways. This was like Game 3 because we had played each other a couple of times in recent weeks. We have to make sure we get a lot better to get the looks we want and knock them in.
Marcus Smarts absence makes matching Indianas physicality a greater challenge for Celtics
Terry Roziers 3-point runner with a second left in the third quarter was, essentially, the final spike. It was good for a 64-53 after a third quarter that couldnt have been more lopsided for both sides. The Celtics carved out this space thanks to a quarter-opening 22-3 run, with the Pacers missing 12 of their first 13 shots, finally shooting 2-for-19 with five turnovers.
The Celtics, thanks to a pair of Tyreke Evans misses at the line, also ran off the first four points of the fourth quarter, including a Hayward transition drive off a Horford feed that triggered an Indiana timeout.
To some degree, that is, as previously mentioned, a role-player problem. But it becomes a superstar problem when George, the teams only reliable deep shooter, isnt making his shots. Maybe the shoulder injury that kept him out for three games in February and March has not fully healed—he dipped to a 34.8 percent rate from 3 post-injury as opposed to 39.8 percent pre-injury. It could be the reason that George had a Westbrookian 3-point performance on Sunday (4-for-15); thank the basketball gods that the man can get to the charity stripe and make his free throws.
Irving, Morris lead Celtics rally past Pacers in Game 1
Cory Joseph scored for Indiana with 9:03 left, and the run continued with Tatum and Irving burying consecutive bombs, extending the run to 10-2 and the lead to 74-55.
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Threes from Horford and Tatum down the stretch helped keep the Pacers at arms length the rest of the way.
But the Celtics clearly took Game 1 thanks to their return to a grinding brand of basketball, as evidenced by the sight of Irving, as much as everyone else, hitting the floor for loose balls.
Just to set an example for myself first and foremost, just to go out there and really throw myself in there, said Irving. For me I just tried to really be aggressive on the ball, be in the right spots. I had some costly fouls here and there that could have gone either way, but I just want to stay aggressive and really be the head of the snake and stay aggressive on the ball. Defensively, I know thats where we make our mark. And when were going out in transition and getting stops, thats when were at our best.
Hes made great progress and I know hes excited, Stevens said. Obviously was operating under a microscope as we were all watching him kind of come back. But obviously at the end of the year—we said all year, Game 20 is going to be better than Game 1. Game 40 is gonna be better than 20, 60 better than 20 and 80s gonna be better than all of them. And that was the case.
Share Share Huge third quarter leads Boston Celtics over Indiana Pacers in Game 1, 84-74 tweet share Reddit Pocket Flipboard Email Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports Two seasons after joining the Celtics, Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward finally got their first taste of playoff basketball in Boston on Sunday afternoon. Their debut turned out to be worth the wait, as a huge third quarter powered the Celtics to an 84-74 victory over the Indiana Pacers in Game 1.
It may have been the two All-Stars debut, but it was the defense that stole the show in TD Garden this afternoon. The game was often an ugly affair — both teams shot worse than 40% from the field and combined for a whopping 29 turnovers, while making just 16 of 55 shots from range. Irving led the Celtics offense with 20 points and seven assists, Jayson Tatum added 15 on 6-of-11 shooting and Al Horford provided a customary all around effort with 10 points, 11 rebounds and 5 assists. Only two Pacers would manage double-digit scoring totals on the day, Cory Joseph (14 points) and Bojan Bogdanovic (10), and Indianas 74 points were the fewest allowed by the Celtics in the playoffs since 2010.
After an uneven first six minutes that saw nearly as many Boston turnovers (five) as points (six), the Celtics got a boost from an unlikely source: Marcus Morris, who came off the bench to score 12 of their 20 first quarter points and finish the quarter with a diving steal to get to the free throw line. Morris had been mired in an extended slump since the first two months of the season, shooting just 40% from the field since the start of January, and it was a relief to see him find a comfort zone early. He would finish with 20 points in the game.
Overall, the first half played directly into Indianas hands. The Pacers earn their stripes on the defensive end of the court, and in the second quarter, that defense was stifling en route to a 16-3 run that put Indiana in command. The Celtics coughed up nine turnovers in the half — they averaged 12 per game in the regular season — and shot just 33% from the field. The exclamation point for the Pacers defense came on a spectacular Thaddeus Young block, rejecting what looked to be an easy breakaway dunk for Horford.
Hes a very good 3-point shooter, we know that, Pacers forward Thaddeus Young said. Today, he did a really good job of being spaced and being able to knock down shots. We have to make our adjustments, come out of this game, and be ready to take him out next game.
Of particular concern: the Celtics made just four of their 17 three-point attempts in the first half, with many of those misses coming on frustratingly open looks. The Pacers depth was quick to punish them, with Matthews, Joseph and Evans scoring 8 points apiece. Indiana would hit just two of their six free throws, however, and never quite stretched their advantage further.
The Pacers led by seven at the break, but that lead would prove to be short-lived. The Celtics opened the second half with a very quick 7-0 run to tie the game, powered by five points from Horford. That run would extend to 15-1 from there as the Celtics continued to push the tempo, while the Pacers couldnt seem to buy a bucket — they went a whopping eight-plus minutes without recording a made field goal. The Celtics outscored the Pacers 26-8 in the quarter, and led by 11 heading into the final frame.
Of note: Brown, who has struggled with back spasms in recent weeks, showed some evident discomfort in his back in the first timeout of the quarter, though he did not come out of the game.
We just need that. It could be anybodys night in the playoffs. The ultimate goal is just to get a W at the end of the game. It doesnt matter how you do it, Kyrie Irving said. I wasnt really hitting that many shots in the first half as well, so to have that kind of be sustained by him staying aggressive and knocking down shots really helped us.
At the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Celtics got some more concerning injury news, as Aron Baynes left the game after a called blocking foul and was in evident pain on the bench. Baynes has battled injuries throughout the season, and the Celtics have struggled in his absence; his promotion to the starting lineup late in the season helped the Celtics find some stability heading into the playoffs. Losing him for any length of time would be a sizable blow, but luckily, he would check back into to the game with five minutes to play.
In the short term, though, the Celtics continued to cruise after Baynes departure, as a Hayward layup and threes from Tatum and Irving pushed the Boston lead to 19 points with less than eight minutes remaining — an insurmountable deficit for the anemic Indiana offense. Irving took a seat with three minutes remaining in regulation, and the rest was a mere formality.