If you ask me, one of the coolest environments to be in is an NBA arena. This holds even more true of the game is close late, which was the situation last night in Indianapolis. I hit the road for the game, so I wanted to write a little recap and share what it was like in Bankers Life Fieldhouse. There’s no place quite like the Boston Garden for a game, but the people of Indiana sure do love their basketball (just ask Larry Bird.) The Celtics already came to Indy and won in November. That was a close game as well, but the Celtics turned the switch on in the 4th and ended up winning by 10. The Pacers were eager to get some revenge.
The Celtics got off to a blazing hot start, making the Pacers call an early timeout after starting on a 10-0 run. The young studs Jaylen Brown & Jayson Tatum were big catalysts, showing good togetherness and knowing where each were on the court. Tatum hit Brown for his second 3 that made the Pacers call the timeout, and Kyrie stretched it to 12-0 before the Pacers finally got on the board. The first quarter ended 38-21 in favor of the Celtics. It was one of the best starts of the season for the C’s. They truly showed how dangerous they can be when they are firing on all cylinders and making shots. It was surgical.
While the Celtics were building their lead, the Pacers were starting to muddy up the game by getting to the free throw line. Early on it was evident their game plan was to get the Celtics in foul trouble, and they did a great job of that. Taking this strategy into the second half, they finished the game 30-38 from the charity stripe to Boston’s 8-14. The Celtics lead at half 62-47.
The Celtics continued to play well offensively, but Victor Oladipo and the Pacers weren’t going away. Foul trouble became a real issue late in the 3rd, and the Celtics had to change they way they were guarding. It’s never easy to play with foul trouble, and it hurt the Celtics on the defensive end. Kyrie was playing with 4 fouls for much of the 2nd half, Smart & Theis finished with 4, Baynes with 5, and Jaylen Brown fouled out. They couldn’t get in the flow because they couldn’t afford to take risks. This resulted in giving up 64 2nd half points (30+ in both quarters.)
They looked to the offensive end for answers, and had some characteristically clutch plays late. But Oladipo was scoring at a high rate, and the Pacers stormed all the way back to take the lead. Oladipo tied it with an and-1 just under two minutes and then took the lead 105-102 with a huge 3-pointer. It was the Pacers first lead of the game, and it looked like they were going to steal it and get their revenge.
LATE GAME HEROICS
After a clutch Kyrie 3 made it 111-110 with 10 seconds left in favor of the Pacers, it looked like the Celtics would have to send the Pacers to the line and have a chance to tie or win with another 3. It seemed like the game had slipped away, and Bankers Life was rocking. The fans were going nuts, thinking they had already won the game. But Terry Rozier had other plans; he stole the inbound pass and streamed down the court for an electrifying dunk to put the game away. The Pacers had a half-court heave that nearly went in.
Terry stole the ball, and the Celtics stole the game. They left through the tunnel in a frenzy, all running after Terry. The best scene of the night was Al Horford going for a piggyback ride on an assistant coaches back out of the tunnel, unable to hold his excitement in. The team was ecstatic. They nearly gave the game away, but took it back in dramatic fashion. The life had been sucked out of the arena, and I could hear the sweet sounds of silence to go along with a classic road victory.
Victor Oladipo finished with a game-high 38. For those that haven’t had a chance to watch the Pacers yet, this guy makes it worth your time. He’s sure to be an all-star this year after being traded along with another steal in Domantas Sabonis for Paul George. The NBA community collectively thought the Pacers got fleeced in the deal, but nearly halfway through the season it’s looking like they knew just what they were doing. Oladipo is a hoops star in Indiana, going to school less than an hour away at IU. It’s home for him, and they treat him like a true hometown hero.
Jayson Tatum continues to look more confident by the day. He had a few monster dunks. He’s been comfortable going to the rim this season, and took advantage of open lanes last night. He really doesn’t carry himself like a rookie. You have to constantly remind yourself when they’re playing that this dude is 19 years old. In a strong rookie class, you’d be hard-pressed to find another rook with the calm confidence Tatum has, to go along with contributing to winning at the highest level. He’s tough to take out of the game, because he’s simply one of the best options the Celtics have.
Marcus Smart was 4-4 from 3. I repeat. MARCUS SMART WAS 4-4 FROM 3. I don’t even need to say anything else about that. Celtics fans all over know that doesn’t happen often. He’s struggled with his shot mightily this season, but gave us an early Christmas present with the perfect clip last night. The Celtics play again on Wednesday, back at home vs. the Heat, the team that ended their 16-game streak earlier in the season. Something tells me that’s going to be a good one as well.