Celtics Notes: Playoff Berth Clinched As Boston Avoids Fourth-Quarter Collapse

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The Boston Celtics desperately needed a win after dropping their last four home games, and four of their last five contests.

They knew that, coming off hot to start and never letting off the gas through the first three quarters Tuesday night. But the final frame saw a consistent problem Boston has had in closing out games recently, and it blew a 16-point fourth-quarter lead. The Indiana Pacers crept back into it with a long two from Victor Oladipo to make it a six-point game, and he followed it up with a 3-pointer with 3:30 left to cut the Pacers’ deficit to just three points.

On the next possession, T.J. Warren tied it up, and Domantas Sabonis was awarded a four-point play to take a late 107-104 lead. It was Indiana’s first lead since their first possession of the game.

Ultimately, Marcus Smart gave Boston its lead back with a tough drive to the basket, and he took care of business on defense and at the line to put it away. Crisis averted. Celtics win 114-111.

“It’s getting close to that time where you’re going to have to win games like this,” Smart said after the game on NBC Sports Boston’s postgame coverage. “So tonight was a good win and it couldn’t have come at a better time, especially with the week we’ve been having.”

Brad Stevens said the adversity the Celtics faced late was a necessary evil.

“We probably needed to have something like that happen,” he said.

“We’ve got to get better in the middle of quarters and we’ve got to get better at the end of quarters, but we probably needed that. That was hard and that’s a good thing … We’ve been really good in the fourth quarters and playing the right way but for whatever reason we just haven’t been as good lately. We’ve let some leads slip away. Part of that is the NBA, part of that is we got to be a little bit better, part of it is you know, sometimes you’re not full. That’s part of it but I’m glad we found a way.”

Gordon Hayward agreed with Stevens’ sentiments that the late lead change would be beneficial.

“In my opinion, it would have been nicer to win by 20,” Hayward said. “But I think it is good to be in those situations, those experiences are something that we all need and will only help us moving forward so I’m happy that we did end of for the win.”

Stevens also acknowledged that with the final stretch of the regular season upon them, there’s a lot of work to be done.

“We have 18 games left after this,” Stevens said. “We’re far from a finished product but we’ve got to get there quickly. We’ve got to start ascending soon so it was important to go through a night like tonight.”

Here are some other notes from Tuesday’s Celtics-Pacers game:

— The Celtics got off to one of the best starts you could ask for behind Hayward’s performance. In the first five minutes all five starters plus Semi Ojeleye had found the basket, and Boston put up 30 points by the end of the first quarter. Hayward had 13 points, four rebounds, two assists and a steal in the frame, shooting perfect from the field and free-throw line in his home state.

He finished with his eighth double-double of the season, dropping 27 points and 10 rebound to go along with five assists, two steals and a block. Per team reporter Taylor Snow, it was Hayward’s first game with 25 or more points and 10 rebounds as a Celtic.

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— Jayson Tatum caught up to Hayward’s production quickly in the second, allowing Stevens to split him and Hayward up for sequences to benefit off the two starting forwards’ offensive production on different lineups.

By the break he’d dropped 20 points in one half for the 12th time in his career. Seven of those instances have come since the start of 2020, per ESPN Stats & Info.

Additionally, he became the first Celtics player to record 50 straight games with more then 10 points through his first three seasons in the league since Paul Pierce in the 2000-01 season, via Celtics Stats on Twitter.

He did it all in these awesome taco sneakers. He should definitely send a pair over to rookie Tacko Fall.

— Along with Hayward and Tatum, Daniel Theis also reached double-digit scoring with 20 points, six rebounds, three assists and two blocks. That included this clutch three to tie things up late:

“I’m happy he hit it cause at the time I thought when I passed it I thought maybe I should have shot that layup, I was pretty open,” Hayward said of the play on NBC Sports Boston’s postgame coverage. “But down three, I thought have confidence in him. That was a big time shot.”

— Just 52 games into the 2020 season, Smart surpassed his previous career-high of 126 3-pointers set last year after 80 games, also via Snow. His shooting from beyond the arc has vastly improved this year, especially when pulling up off the dribble.

— The first quarter looked promising for Kemba Walker to play beyond his 25-minute time restriction, playing eight in the first quarter alone. He briefly went into the locker room toward the end of the second quarter appearing to have an issue with his left hand. But fortunately was back after the break, playing 30 minutes with 11 points, three rebounds and two assists.

— With the win, the Celtics became the fourth team to clinch a playoff spot and the third in the Eastern Conference behind the first-place Milwaukee Bucks and second-place Toronto Raptors. From the west, the Los Angeles Lakers were first to clinch.

Boston is now 43-21, 9.5 games back of the Bucks, who the C’s face next on Thursday, March 12.

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Thumbnail photo via Credit: Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY Sports Images

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