A trip to Las Vegas wasn’t in the cards for the Boston Celtics this year, as they fell to the Indiana Pacers Monday night in the quarterfinals of the NBA’s inaugural In-Season Tournament.
After earning a spot among the final eight teams by advancing past the group stage last week, Boston was knocked out of the tourney via a single-elimination style, 122-112 loss in Indianapolis.
Although the C’s won’t get a chance to cash in for the grand prize, the league as a whole has hit the jackpot with its new tournament, as anyone watching Monday’s matchup could see.
The NBA set the night up in playoff fashion, scheduling two IST games – each in a different time slot – while the rest of the league was off. This meant that all eyes were on Boston and Indiana when they tipped off at 7:30 p.m. on the Pacers’ vibrant blue and yellow court.
Bankers Life Fieldhouse, which hasn’t hosted a game of such magnitude since their 2019 postseason series with the C's, was rocking from start to finish. And the fans got their money’s worth in a matchup that featured 16 lead changes and 15 ties.
The first half was all about Boston’s defense, as it held the league’s top-ranked offense to just 48 points on 35.6 percent shooting. But the Celtics’ seven-point halftime lead wouldn’t hold for long, as Tyrese Haliburton caught fire in the third quarter and helped seize momentum for the Pacers.
Haliburton, in what he called “the most important game” of his career to date, logged his first career triple-double with 26 points, 10 rebounds, and 13 assists. He knocked down five triples, and not a single one of them looked like an easy shot.
After being held to 22 points in the first quarter and 26 in the second, the Pacers logged back-to-back 37-point frames to close out the game, including a 37-23 third-quarter advantage.
Boston committed six turnovers of its 18 turnovers during the third frame, while Indy didn’t commit any during that span. Those mistakes, head coach Joe Mazzulla said, were the difference in the game.
“It’s hard to withstand 18 turnovers to six turnovers,” Mazzulla said. “When you turn the ball over, you just let them get out in transition. I think that we lost some of our offensive purpose (in the third quarter), just didn’t take care of the ball … When you do that against that team, they make you pay.”
Jayson Tatum (32 points) and Jaylen Brown (30 points) logged 30-plus points apiece for the 26th time in their careers. This was an oddity, however, as it only marked their second loss while doing so.
Although it was a disappointing way to go out, Mazzulla saw the benefit of the IST layout, and the new style of competition that came with it created a great learning experience.
“The league got what it wanted creating emotion and headlines and opportunity early in the year,” Mazzulla said.
Such emotion was on display in crunch time Monday night, as Pacers fans stayed on their feet throughout much of the tight fourth quarter before celebrating their team's berth into the semifinals. It was a much closer contest toward the end than the final score suggests, as it was a four-point game until the final 10 seconds when the Pacers closed out on a 6-0 run.
The one upside for the C's in not advancing is that they will have a few days off until their next game on Friday when they'll host the loser of Wednesday night’s IST quarterfinals matchup between New York and Milwaukee. Plus, instead of traveling out to Vegas, they’ll get to stay home in Boston for the next two weeks.