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.
But these are the playoffs, and like the Bruins’ metamorphosis from Game 1 spectators to Game 2 aggressors against the Maple Leafs, the Celtics took a page from their mates down the hall and took the body in the second half. It wasn’t that they were weenies or anything in the first two periods, but they raised their checking game in the third, and the Pacers seemed unprepared for this kind of hockey on hardwood. Their most frequent response was to complain to the officials as the Celts ran in the opposite direction with the ball.
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.
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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.
“They’re a team that just plays hard,” said Horford, who hauled in a game-high 11 rebounds and facilitated the offense with five assists to go with his 10 points on 10 shots from the floor. “They play the right way. Theyre tough. You have to match that in order to have any chance. And I feel like that third quarter was huge for us tonight.”
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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.
I feel like its been pretty darn good in late-game situations, and I dont have to do anything. I feel like thats way better for our team if I can just stay out of the way, Stevens jokes. No… we try our best to give him as much space as possible. Listen, hes going to draw a lot of attention. Hes not always going to be able to or its not always the right move to be the guy that scores. Hes going to have to make the right plays. Hes going to get blitzed, hes going to get trapped, hes going to get doubled, and the thing about it all year wrong is hes made the right play and so I think our challenge is always giving him the appropriate amount of space, deciding whether to bring two to the ball or not and then thats the benefit of guys at this level, and the very, very best guys only need a step. They only need a little bit of space, and so, just try to figure out how to do that.
Celtics dominate second half to defeat Pacers in Game 1
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.
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.
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.
Hes more comfortable, Stevens said. Its not just a matter of getting physically back. It was a matter of getting comfortable with how we play, and figuring out how he fits with everybody else, especially with all the wings we have. So I think its been a work in progress but its obviously been really, really good as of late.
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.
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.
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.
The Indiana Pacers played 3 quarters of a 4 quarter game. The other quarter, they were terrible. They were beyond terrible. I went to thesaurus .com to find the perfect word for how bad the third quarter was, but my computer exploded. It was a total dumpster fire, and the Pacers walked out of the TD Garden losers.
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.
Boston Celtics' Marcus Morris, left, drives past Indiana Pacers' Darren Collison during the second quarter in Game 1 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series, Sunday, April 14, 2019, in Boston. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
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The first was a tale of growth and, partly, redemption. The isolation heavy play that earned him the nickname iso-Mook,” has been tempered. He shifted his offensive focus to more efficient shots, and it resulted in an early run at a 50-40-90 shooting season. His insertion in the starting lineup helped trigger a turnaround for the desperate Celtics who went 10-10 over their first 20 games.
Joseph shot 5/9, and he did a solid job containing Kyrie Irving when he was tasked with guarding him. Irving actually didn’t have the best game shooting the ball too, which is a testament to the game CoJo had. The Pacers backup point guard was effective.
Conflict abounded in the second act. The hot hand went brutally cold, and the same Morris who hit 32 3′s in December hit just 15 in February. The isolation and forced mid-range shots returned, and Morris returned to the bench once Aron Baynes was healthy.
Havent been in a playoff game in a while, and also it was an early game, so your routine changes a little bit, he said. But couldnt have been happier to be out there on the court with my teammates, wearing the Celtics colors and playing in front of the fans. It was a lot of fun.
It looked like the curtain was falling early on Morris season, but some time off, and an opportunity for more minutes in the wake of the Marcus Smart injury, have changed this story.
A third act began at the 6:20 of the first quarter in Game 1 of the opening round series against the Indiana Pacers. Checking in with the Celtics down 12-6, Morris keyed a run to tie the game at 18. In a half where the Celtics managed just 38 points on 32.5 percent shooting, Morris stood out with 15 of those points on 43 percent shooting. He also took nine of Boston 11 first half free throws to keep the Celtics alive when they simply looked terrible.
I think he probably benefited as much as anybody from being out for a couple of the last season games, I think two of the last four, Brad Stevens said after the game. I thought he did a really good job and we need him to.
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Any time you get a few days off is great, he said. I played 70-something games, so it was a time to relax and reflect on the season and just get back.
The recharge seemed to help Morris get both his shot and his mojo back, both of which helped Boston in this one.
Irving is more business like. He already has a ring. Hes already been on deep runs. For him, this is all about getting back to the promised land, and it starts with winning these game at home, like the Celtics should.
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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.
Everyone goes through slumps. The important thing, according to Al Horford, is to keep pressing forward with the day-to-day preparation and trust that it will ultimately pay off.
When you do all those things, and youre going through a little rut or whatever, hell eventually fall out of that, he said. Tonight he gave us a huge lift in the first half and was a big difference in getting us going and keeping us in the game.
Act 3 of this seasons Marcus Morris story will continue to be written as the playoffs wear on. Boston is now up 1-0 after their 84-74 win, but whats next? Will this be a big, happy ending, or will it turn into an NBA-themed Greek tragedy? That answer will come in time, and until then Morris is just going to do what he does, and hope it works.
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At the end of the day, Im a hooper, he said, holding his son in his arms on the podium after the game. Im here to help the team at whatever aspect they put me at, whatever position they put me.