Say hello to the hottest team in the NBA — and no, it’s not the Indiana Pacers.
The Boston Celtics took another step toward securing a spot in the postseason Saturday night by dispatching a Pacers squad that has been the talk of the league since the All-Star break. The 93-89 win was the Celtics’ fourth in a row and their sixth in seven games, and it brought them to within half a game of the final Eastern Conference playoff spot.
Centers Tyler Zeller and Roy Hibbert engaged in quite the slugfest down low. Zeller decisively won the first half, scoring 12 points on perfect 6-of-6 shooting while also gathering five rebounds. Hibbert, meanwhile, failed to make much of an impact all night. He finished with just five points and seven rebounds and spent several key fourth-quarter minutes on the bench.
Zeller, on the other hand, thrived in crunch time. The Indiana native scored four points and grabbed two rebounds over a one-minute span late in the fourth to snuff out a Pacers rally. Zeller’s 18 points (on 8-of-10 shooting) led all Celtics scorers.
BENCH IS BOSS
Jae Crowder was everywhere for the Celtics in the first half, swarming the Pacers on defense and making the type of intangible hustle plays that have garnered him so much praise from coach Brad Stevens.
Crowder finished with 16 points and seven rebounds.
Boston’s second unit as a whole was potent. Jonas Jerebko and Luigi Datome hit 3-pointers, while Phil Pressey continued to look more comfortable as a replacement for injured point guard Isaiah Thomas. Specifically, Pressey was able to mimic Thomas’ ability to drive to the basket with authority, and it made that second unit much more dynamic on the offensive end.
Thomas himself took note:
Yeaaaaah Phil keep attacking—
Isaiah Thomas (@Isaiah_Thomas) March 15, 2015
The Celtics turned sharing the ball into an art form during the first half, with each of their first 17 made baskets coming off assists. They also turned the ball over just twice over the first two quarters. To put that first stat into perspective, Boston dished out just total 19 helpers Friday in their win over the Orlando Magic.
The C’s reeled off a 12-2 run early in the second and led by 10 or more for much of the quarter, but a late Pacers response cut the lead to 45-37 at halftime.
Indiana continued to threaten in the third, but the Celtics never relinquished their advantage despite coughing the ball up eight times in the frame. Brandon Bass and Avery Bradley led the Celtics’ charge with eight and seven points, respectively, in the third.
Bass, who finished with 16 points, also iced the game with two free throws in the final seconds.
Up next: The Celtics host the lowly Philadelphia 76ers on Monday before visiting two formidable Western Conference opponents: The Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs.
Thumbnail photo via Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY Sports Images
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