Just before tipoff, Al Horford paced about the center of the court with an irrepressible smile on his face - as if he knew the outcome of the game before it even started. The Celtics were set to take on the ever-menacing Indiana Pacers, at the TD Garden. Boston sought redemption after suffering a heartbreaking loss to Victor Oladipo’s crew back in November. And redemption is exactly what Boston would find. As it turns out, Al Horford would eventually have something to smile about on Wednesday night. The Celtics got to work early and never looked back against the Pacers - maintaining the first and only lead of the game for all but 48 minutes.
Entering Wednesday’s contest, the last four times Boston and Indiana had faced off the score was settled by a matter of just 2 points or fewer. The Pacers have undeniably represented a difficult matchup for the Boston Celtics, in recent history.
But this time around, that was far from the case.
Jayson Tatum singlehandedly galvanized the initial push for Boston. The Celtics were able to get out to an early lead from the jump, largely if not wholly due to Tatum’s hot-hand. In the opening 5 minutes of this game, Jayson went 5 for 5 from the field with 11 points - efficient, to say the least.
Al Horford served as an offensive conduit in the halfcourt - truly an invaluable chess piece to Boston’s offense. With Al carving out space, clearing the way inside, things quickly opened up for Tatum to glide through the lane, or carve up the mid-range as he pleased.
Feeding off the early momentum, especially in the first half, we saw an interplay between Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown that we haven’t truly seen since last season. And boy was it nice to see!
On multiple occasions in this game, Tatum posted up 10-15 feet out and passed to a freely cutting Jaylen Brown for an unchecked bucket, or a trip to the foul line.
The dynamic duo of Jaylen and Jayson combined for 28 points in the first half alone, resulting in what would prove to be an insurmountable 68-53 Celtics’ lead.
Perhaps the most easily overlooked facet of Boston’s performance on Wednesday night was their ability to dominate under the rim, namely on the defensive end. Brad Stevens employed a special concoction of his zone scheme, which prevented Indiana from successfully attacking in the paint for the majority of this contest.
Although Domantas Sabonis did his thing for the Pacers, accumulating 20 points, along with 5 assists, oftentimes running the offense through the middle of the floor, the Celtics won the battle in the paint overwhelmingly - with 56 points to Indiana’s 40.
Just watching from home, fans could feel the Pacer’s apprehension when driving the ball. Boston congested the paint and consistently infiltrated Indiana’s passing lanes. The C’s played downright disruptive defense all night long.
Looking up at a daunting halftime deficit, the Pacers came out in the third quarter looking to leverage a possibly unhealthy dose of Victor Oladipo, who had been extremely quiet up until that point, statistically and otherwise. Indiana tried to turn the corner by driving with kamikaze-like imprudence - chucking up prayers under the rim, trying to draw toss-up fouls.
But the Celtics’ discipline on defense would prove to be too much for the Pacers to overcome.
Garbage time came early in this one. The play of Boston’s bench, led by Jaylen Brown whose attack never ceased, would allow for the starters to receive some well-deserved rest on this first night of a home-away back-to-back.
While we’re on the topic of back-to-backs, with a minute left to go in the third quarter, after resisting an early second half push by the Pacers, the Celtics hit back-to-back-to-back three pointers to extend their already commanding lead to 103-76.
This sequence was initiated by two long bombs from Terry Rozier, and it was concluded by a wide-open Jaylen Brown triple. The crowd reflectively erupted with applause.
To illustrate just how much of a trouncing this game was: with still more than a quarter left to play, by hitting 103 on the scoreboard, the Celtics had already exceeded the Pacers’ average points allowed this season (102.3 opponent points per game).
With a sufficient cushion, peripheral guys like Robert Williams and Brad Wanamaker were allotted some throwaway minutes in the fourth. The Celtics consumed clock, and played around with a 30-point lead, gradually trotting their way to a 135-108 statement win over the Indiana Pacers.
Jayson Tatum ignited the fire early on, but Jaylen Brown and Marcus Morris would ultimately lead the way for the Celtics with 22 points a piece. On the other side, perennial Celtics Killer, Victor Oladipo was held to a negligible 17 points on 6 of 13 shooting from the field - relatively a non-factor in this one, considering his established, imposing track record against Boston.
Wednesday night’s win puts the Celtics on a 4-game winning streak, going 4-0 during this encouraging 4-game homestand. Good or bad, Boston will have very little time to relish this victory - as they’ll hop on a plane immediately afterwards to take on the Heat in Miami Thursday night.
Photo: (AP Photo)(AP/Darron Cummings)