– by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief
BOSTON — Al Horford was physically sick coming into the game and, during it, the Indiana Pacers were adding to the ills of the Boston Celtics, poised to take the series back to the Hoosier State with a split. However, like Game 1, being down and forced to come up with their best when their best was needed was the time Boston thrived, doing enough to continue their dominance of the Pacers this season.
Kyrie Irving scored a game-high 37 points, including back-to-back show-stopping three-pointers during a 14-0 fourth-quarter run, while Jayson Tatum scored 10 in the final frame to lift Boston to a 99-91 win over the Indiana Pacers to take a 2-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals on Wednesday night.
“We did the little things. That’s what’s going to get you wins in these playoffs,” Irving said. “It’s not so much about the talent, not so much about always executing the right way. It’s just about doing the little things in the time when it’s needed in the game. I think we did that. We just have to stay consistent.”
Consistency has been tough to come by for the Celtics in these first two games, first highlighted by being down seven at halftime before outscoring the Pacers 26-8 in the third quarter to put Game 1 away. Tonight, Indiana’s dominance extended into the early stages of the fourth, as a Tyreke Evans three on the Pacers’ first possession of the fourth gave them an 82-70 lead.
From there, the quintet on the floor for the Celtics — Tatum, Horford, Terry Rozier, Marcus Morris and Gordon Hayward — took over the next two minutes, helping to score the game’s next eight points and necessitating a timeout from Indiana. Horford, who came in battling an illness and was a game-time decision, scored on Boston’s two possessions of the quarter while Rozier scored off an offensive rebound and had two assists during the run. The play of Boston during that stretch was similar to the majority of home games the Celtics played in last year’s playoffs, excelling when Irving was not on the floor. (Irving missed all of last season’s postseason after knee surgery.)
“[Rozier]was huge in that come back, way more than the stats,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “I don’t always think the plus/minus tells us the most accurate story, but tonight I think, with him, it’s very accurate.”
But having Irving around this year, no matter what chemistry may have been upset, will be the difference in whether Boston makes it to June or not, and he immediately impacted he game upon his return, hitting back-to-back threes to give Boston an 84-82 lead.
Indiana did force its way back into the lead on the back of Bojan Bogdanovic, who hit consecutive three-pointers late, the latter on a step-back which gave the Pacers a 91-89 lead with with 2:16 left.
At that time, Boston needed its best once again to pull it out and it got just that from Tatum, who hit a three-pointer from the right corner to give Boston the lead for good. On the next possession, Tatum, after driving to the basket, found a wide-open Gordon Hayward for a layup underneath the basket for a 94-91 lead with 12 seconds remaining.
On the ensuing inbounds, Wesley Matthews threw the pass away and free throws afterward sealed the win for the Celtics.
“We got to finish. We got to do a better job of finishing games and situations like that,” said Pacers head coach Nate McMillan. “Execution on both ends of the floor, getting stops defensively, offensively being clear about what you want to do and what you need to do in that situation. We all have to do a better job, I have to do a better job, we all have to do a better job.”