The Boston Celtics squeaked into the quarterfinal of the NBA’s first annual In-Season Tournament behind a blowout win over the Chicago Bulls and some fortunate point differential math, but their appearance in the single-elimination phase of the tournament didn’t last long. They faced a tough Indiana Pacers team that has played their best basketball of the season in the tournament, and ultimately fell 122-112 at the hands of a brilliant game from Indiana’s burgeoning superstar guard, Tyrese Haliburton.
Jaylen Brown had his way with Indiana’s questionable perimeter defense, terrorizing the rim en route to 30 points, 24 of which came inside the arc. Jayson Tatum added 32 points but struggled with efficiency for much of the game, and Derrick White scored 18 but appeared to be playing through an injury suffered in the second half. Six Pacers scored in double figures, led by a stuffed stat sheet from Haliburton. The 23-year-old guard responded to arguably the most important game of his career to this point with his first triple-double, scoring 26 points, grabbing 10 boards and dishing 13 assists.
The Pacers sport one of the most dangerous offenses in basketball, a group of speed demons that wreck opposing defenses with lightning-paced fast breaks and drive-and-kick three-point shooting. With Kristaps Porzingis sidelined for the fourth straight game, the Boston defense had to be prepared to see their rim protection put to the test early and often.
That was certainly the case from the jump tonight. Both teams put up a high volume of shots, though they each struggled with efficiency to begin the night. The amped up tempo favorite Brown especially, as he sliced his way to the rim with aggression en route to 10 points in the first quarter. Turner enjoyed Boston’s smaller defensive looks, scoring eight, and the two teams were neck-and-neck entering the second quarter, with Boston ahead 24-22.
The Pacers found some scoring mojo as play continued into the second, and started to build an edge on the Celtics from behind the three-point arc. Boston cashed in on less than 30% of their looks from deep in the first half, getting doubled up by Indiana for much of the half (eight threes to four) before Tatum and White finally connected on their first threes of the game in the final minute before the break. They took the lid off the rim in that last minute, going on a 10-2 run to create some distance, and led at the halftime break 55-48. The Pacers’ 48 points made for their second-lowest figure at the half this season.
Brown’s big night was put on pause in the second quarter, as he picked up his third foul of the game and found himself resigned to the bench and recording just 11 minutes in the first half. Returning to the court in the third, he picked up where he left off, kicking off the Celtics’ second-half scoring with a pair of two-point buckets. No Indiana defender was able to contain him when he got going downhill.
Haliburton arrived to the game in the third quarter as well, cashing in on a pair of deep three-pointers and a layup in the first regular season appearance on TNT of his young NBA career. As is his custom, the NBA’s assist leader puppeteered every aspect of the Indiana offense, scoring or assisting on virtually every basket. Through three quarters, Haliburton recorded a ridiculous 19-10-7 stat line and piloted an 18-5 Pacer run to give them an 85-78 lead heading into the final quarter.
Sam Hauser’s fifth three-pointer of the evening kicked off the fourth quarter action, as the two teams stared down a tightly contested finish. The duo of Hauser and Luke Kornet provided most of the impact off the bench for the Celtics tonight, with the former scoring 15 points on another hot-shooting night and the latter swatting four shots and pulling off some nice finishes in the paint.
The Celtics inched their way through the Indiana lead in the early minutes of the fourth quarter, though the Pacers were not making anything easy on them. The Celtics were hamstrung by self-inflicted errors, coughing up 17 turnovers (compared to just six from the Pacers) and making only 66% of their free throw attempts. Regardless, they fought through their struggles and tied the game back up with just under six minutes remaining in regulation.
The game remained knotted up for much of the next few minutes, with the two teams punching and counterpunching as the lead stayed within one possession. Haliburton continued to shine, connecting on two more deep threes that swung the score in Indiana’s favor. The second of those finally swung the game, as he drew a shooting foul and converted the four-point play, then found Buddy Hield on Indiana’s next offensive possession for the three-point dagger.