IN A NUTSHELL
Sometimes surprises are great, like finding $20 on the street, or free whiskey. Others times they suck, like cancer, or falling from an eroding cliff to a splattery death. Or, say, the Indiana Pacers holding third in the East despite the surprise sheen of Victor Oladipo having worn off and Nate McMillan’s coaching acumen beginning to show its limitations. (‘Dipo’s weeks-long injury absence hardly fazed the team, too.) Short version: The Boston Celtics would have their hands full for this game.
Or so I thought. Instead, despite showing some wherewithal early on, Indiana never led in this contest, and were down by as many as 30 on multiple occasions. Behind monster performances by Jaylen Brown, Marcus Morris and Jayson Tatum, as well as smooth passing from Al Horford (and the whole team, but he had 8 of his own), tenacity from Daniel Theis and dead-eye shooting from Terry Rozier and Gordon Hayward, Boston won their fourth straight, 135-108. Gene Hackman ain’t walkin’ through that door.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
The Celtics and Pacers are well-matched in many ways. I’d argue that they’re slightly distorted mirror images of each other. I don’t have the time to break down every similarity, but consider that Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner have notable similarities to Al Horford and Mook as versatile bigs; Oladipo is the gunner who stewards the team like Kyrie; they have their own pale-rider sniper in Bojan Bogdanovic and so on (No, I am not saying Bogdanovic’s will ever be anywhere near what peak Hayward has been and perhaps can still can be; just want that to be clear because people seem to get touchy about things I say regarding the wh—Hayward sometimes.)
Nevertheless, Boston showed an immense advantage in paint scoring (34 points to 20) during the first half, a welcome and somewhat surprising development given Indiana’s intense physicality and estimable abilities in the painted area. They took fewer threes than usual because they didn’t have to, and still built leads as great as 20. In fairness, Indiana was on the second night of a back to back, though it was only putrid Cleveland they faced, but the advantage continued through the last two frames when Boston switched over to more jump-shooting offense.
In an undoubtedly encouraging performance (for him and for fans), Jaylen Brown scored 22 points on hyperefficient shooting, more than half of them in the first half when the game wasn’t a foregone conclusion. Mook Morris matched him in points and Tatum wasn’t far behind with 20. But this game was a team win in every sense of the word, with 70 of the Celtics’ 135 points coming from the reserves. The whole team was on offensively and took total advantage of the Pacers’ tiredness defensively. All in all, everyone was in sync up and down the roster to make a statement against a tough Eastern Conference foe. There may be no better evidence of that than the assist rate: 32 tonight, making this the 5th straight game of 30-plus dimes.
WHAT WENT WRONG
- Celtics defenders had a hard time dealing with Domantas Sabonis. Even SMARF, often sizable enough to defend men of much bigger positions, couldn’t do much with him. The scion of Arvydas was the Pacers’ most effective scoring weapon for a large share of the game and also showed facility for passing out of the post if Boston swarmed him there.
- Given Indiana was on SEGABABA, this can’t be claimed as evidence of what Boston will do consistently the rest of the season, let alone come playoff time. But the Pacers are a very good team by any stretch, and the Celtics beat the brakes off of them by every standard.
WHAT THE HELL
Lotta weird calls against both sides:
- Kyrie got called for a travel at one point when, if anything, he’d committed the slightest of double-dribbles.
- Any of what Johnny Most used to call “the bang-bang stuff” in the post got called even when it was mere physical basketball and not remotely malicious (in some cases arguably not even fouls). Boston got to the line more in the first half; ‘Dipo sold a lot of drives early in the third to get himself to the charity stripe;
- Scal’s point that a defensive three-second violation against Rob Williams makes no sense is undoubtedly a sound one. I mean, the man is known for bending chronological concepts and eating them like snack cakes. The tech he got for swinging on the rim is even dumber, because unlike three-second violations, the rim-hanging thing definitely shouldn’t be a rule at all.
- By the fourth frame when Boston was up 30 or more, the reserves were in, so I’m sure at least some of the traveling calls were legit (including a super goofy one by our beloved Guerschon Yabusele).
GREEN FIRE HIGHLIGHTS
Kyrie with the steal and nearly seamless overhead pass to Brown for an easy layup on the other end:
Tatum dancing wildly through the Pacers defense:
Nonlinear poetry in motion:
Mook shake, Mook bake: