BOSTON — Brad Stevens is a Pacers fan, or at least he was until a different NBA team started signing his paychecks. Still, a little bit of that blue and gold clearly was left over when the now-Celtics coach gushed about Pacers stars Paul George and Roy Hibbert prior to Friday’s game.
As it turned out, Stevens reserved his highest praise for another, less heralded Pacer, who may have been the player most responsible for handing the Celtics a 97-82 defeat.
“David West is a stud,” Stevens said. “David West has been a stud since he played at Xavier — and I think he looked like he does now when he played at Xavier, as a matter of fact. He is a winner. You read articles on them or you talk to people in that organization, they’ve got a ton of talented guys, and I think they would all say that David West is the rock. Boy, does he play like it.”
The object of Stevens’ affection torched Boston (4-10) more than his 17 points, eight rebounds and three steals could ever show. When the Pacers were down and in need of a spark, the 11th-year veteran put the game on his shoulders and assured the Pacers (11-1) would protect their league-best record.
West scored 10 of Indiana’s 25 points in the third quarter as the Pacers wiped out an eight-point Celtics advantage in what was either a great 12 minutes for the Pacers or an ungodly bad 12 minutes for the Celtics, depending on one’s point of view. Coming out of halftime with a 50-42 lead, the Celtics proceeded to score eight points — total — in the third quarter, and would never pull closer than within six points of the Pacers the rest of the game.
The Pacers’ best defense against Jordan Crawford turned out to be the brief break between the first and second halves. The Celtics point guard was a blistering 8-for-8 in the first half, knocking down two long 3-pointers late in the clock to enter halftime with a game-high 19 points.
Crawford’s scoring slowed in the second half, but his ballhandling and passing were an issue more than his shooting. He shot a not-awful 2-for-4 from the field but committed all six of his turnovers after intermission.
“Anybody who has gotten on a roll like that that’s ever played will tell you, halftime’s the worst thing that can happen,” Stevens said. “He can go like that, but you can’t expect that to happen again just because he was in a zone in the first half and really feeling it.”
Regardless, West’s monster third quarter and Crawford’s offensive slowdown in the second half were not the primary reasons the Celtics became incapable of competing in the second half. They were plagued by turnovers all game and finished with 21, but in the first half, the Pacers both committed more turnovers themselves and failed to capitalize on the seven turnovers the Celtics committed before the break.
The Celtics were not as lucky in the third quarter. They committed nine turnovers in that quarter alone, and it felt like every one led to a scoring opportunity for Indiana. Paul George, who was outplayed by Jeff Green for most of the first half, woke up to score eight points in the third quarter, then added another 14 in the fourth to end up with a game-high 27 points. Ultimately, the third quarter went about as well as can be expected when a team has more turnovers (nine) than points (eight).
“They kind of hit us in the mouth and we didn’t take it too well,” said Gerald Wallace, who took responsibility for the five turnovers he committed on his own. “We turned the ball over, we had a lot of bad turnovers, but all in all I think we [could have] had a great night. You take the turnovers away, we’re in a pretty good position.”
Of course, there’s a classic joke that applies here about Mrs. Lincoln and the quality of the play at the Ford Theater, but since Friday was the anniversary of another presidential assassination, we’ll avoid that one for now. At least the Celtics can take comfort in the idea that they could have come out with a victory over one of the league’s best teams, if the third quarter didn’t count.
The third quarter did count, though, as does the loss, which now extends the Celtics’ losing streak to six in a row. As the Pacers keep rolling along, West remains a stud, while the Celtics are whatever is the exact opposite of a stud.