The Boston Celtics fought until the bitter end Sunday night, but it wasn’t enough to notch their third straight win.
The Celtics fell to the Indiana Pacers 99-97 at TD Garden in what very well could be a playoff preview. After a slow start to the game, the two teams went back and forth in the fourth quarter in what turned out to be a classic nail-biter.
Boston faced quite a bit of adversity in the contest, playing without two starters and losing Kyrie Irving at halftime. But Marcus Smart (20 points) and Terry Rozier (16 points) picked up the slack and almost lifted the C’s to a stunning win.
Victor Oladipo (27 points) proved to be too much for the Celtics down the stretch, carrying to the Pacers to their fifth win in six games.
With the loss, the Celtics fall to 46-21, while the Pacers improve to 39-28.
Here’s how it all went down:
PG: Kyrie Irving
SG: Marcus Smart
SF: Jayson Tatum
PF: Marcus Morris
C: Aron Baynes
A pair of ailments necessitated the Celtics’ new-look starting lineup Sunday. Jaylen Brown still is working his way back after taking a hard fall Thursday night, and Al Horford was forced out of action by an illness.
The Pacers shot an underwhelming 36 percent from the field in the first quarter, but the Celtics failed to capitalize on their opponent’s struggles, taking just a 25-24 lead into the second. Boston’s offense was sound to start but only managed to get 19 shots up. Smart was feeling it from distance early on, knocking down both of his 3-point attempts. Terry Rozier matched his backcourt mate with six first-quarter points, a team high.
The Celtics took a double-digit lead into halftime without any player scoring in double figures. After both Morris and Tatum were limited to two first-quarter points, each forward responded with six in the second to help Boston snag a 50-40 advantage at the break. Indiana continued to struggle from the field, scoring 16 points in the second frame. Oladipo led the way for the Pacers with seven first-half points, while the C’s had five players above that threshold through two quarters.
Boston’s injury situation managed to go from bad to worse, as Irving didn’t come out for the second half and officially was ruled out with left knee soreness late in the third quarter. Indiana took full advantage of the Celtics’ dwindling roster, outscoring the C’s by 14 in the third quarter to take a 74-70 lead into the fourth. Oladipo sparked the Pacers’ furious rally with 13 points in the third.
CLOSE, BUT NO CIGAR
The Celtics showed great fight in the fourth quarter against a Pacers team that found its rhythm in the second half. Boston remained well within striking distance throughout the frame thanks in large part to Smart, who made a number of strong defensive plays and knocked down a pair of clutch 3-pointers. Rozier cut the deficit to two with a bucket from beyond the arc with just over a minute to go, and Tatum tied the game at 95-95 with a pair of free throws 30 seconds later.
Unfortunately for Boston, Indiana had an answer. Myles Turner muscled through Morris for the go-ahead bucket with 19 seconds left and Rozier couldn’t convert a scoop layup on the ensuing possession. The C’s had a chance to tie or hit the game-winner after an Oladipo offensive foul with 1.5 seconds left, but Rozier’s jumper rimmed out.
PLAY OF THE GAME
A great pass from Rozier led to a smooth finish from Daniel Theis.
The Celtics will have two days off before hosting the Washington Wizards on Wednesday. Tip-off from TD Garden is set for 8 p.m. ET.
Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports