BOSTON — In what almost certainly will be a playoff preview, the Boston Celtics rose to the occasion.
After squandering an early 13-point lead Friday night at TD Garden, the Celtics stayed the course and gutted out a 114-112 win over the Indiana Pacers. Boston moved up to fourth place in the Eastern Conference standings with six games remaining on its regular-season schedule, one of which in Indiana.
Kyrie Irving notched a game-high 30 points and was one of six Celtics to score in double figures. Aron Baynes provided a double-double with 13 points and 13 rebounds in his third straight start. Bojan Bogdanovic (27 points) was red-hot from wire-to-wire, but his efforts weren’t enough to lift the Pacers to a road win.
With the win, the Celtics improved to 45-31, while the Pacers dropped to 45-31. Boston currently owns the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Here’s how it all went down:
PG: Kyrie Irving
SG: Marcus Smart
SF: Jayson Tatum
PF: Al Horford
C: Aron Baynes
The Celtics wasted no time putting pressure on the Pacers, opening the game on a 9-1 to force Indiana coach Nate McMillan to call a timeout at the 9:42 mark. It didn’t get a whole lot better for the visitors from there, as Boston maintained the momentum from its hot start and took a 35-25 lead into the second quarter.
Brad Stevens’ decision to start Baynes paid off yet again, as the big man notched seven first-quarter points and pulled down three rebounds. Irving matched Baynes with seven points of his own, while Al Horford provided six and Jaylen Brown turned in five off the bench. The C’s shot 50 percent from the field and assisted on all but four of their 14 first-quarter baskets. Bogdanovic paced Indiana with six points.
PACERS PUNCH BACK
Indiana wasn’t going to let this one get out of hand.
The Pacers outscored the Celtics 12-3 over the first three minutes of the second quarter and took their first lead of the game when Cory Joseph laid one in at the 7:59 mark. Boston proceeded to build its lead back up to eight, but Indiana closed the second on a 5-0 run to trim the deficit to 63-60 at the break.
Bogdanovic continued to be a menace for the C’s, leading all scorers with 12 second-quarter points and 18 for the half. T.J. Leaf provided the Pacers with a boost of the bench, scoring eight after being limited to two in the first. Tatum carried the load for the Celtics in the second with nine points, while Brown logged six. Boston didn’t do itself any favors by committing seven second-quarter turnovers after giving the ball away just once in the first.
BACK AND FORTH
Neither team could create any sort of separation in the third, as the two sides traded basket after basket in a well-played quarter that concluded with Indiana holding a 91-89 advantage.
It sure looked as though Irving was about to take the game over, as the star point guard scored 10 points in the first two minutes of the third. He cooled off from there, though, scoring just two points for the remainder of the frame. Myles Turner was a handful for the Celtics and matched Irving with 12 third-quarter points. Bogdanovic continued his big night with seven points in the period.
FIGHT TO THE FINISH
The Celtics and Pacers traded slim leads throughout the fourth quarter, setting up for a thrilling final few minutes. Smart broke a tie with a 3-pointer with 2:29 to go, only to be countered by a Darren Collison trey 27 seconds later. Irving and Thaddeus Young followed suit on the teams’ next possessions, draining baskets separated by just 20 seconds.
After a brief scoreless spell that lasted nearly one minute and 20 seconds as the game wound down, Irving dashed to the basket to put the Celtics ahead with a layup with just 0.5 seconds to go. The Pacers had a chance to win it at the buzzer, but their last-ditch effort didn’t go.
PLAY OF THE GAME
The Celtics will play the second leg of their back-to-back Saturday night in Brooklyn against the Nets. Tip-off from Barclays Center is set for 6 p.m. ET.