BOSTON – The Boston Celtics could not create any significant separation from the Indiana Pacers during Friday night’s matchup at TD Garden, but they did just enough to grind out a wire-to-wire, 128-123 win.
For Indy, it was a night where every type of shot was falling, as it logged shooting clips of 51.9 percent from the field, 47.2 percent from 3-point range, and 95.7 percent from the free-throw line. However, the C’s connected on a few more shots while connecting at a slightly higher 54.2 percent clip from the field, which allowed them to sneak by with their 48th victory of the season.
It certainly wasn’t as pretty as some of its recent blowout wins, but Boston’s players could all agree that it was a beneficial type of game to experience just before the Playoffs.
“We can’t take our wins for granted; it doesn’t matter who it’s against,” said Marcus Smart, who logged 12 points and five assists during34 minutes of action. “To win a game in this league against any team is special and to go out there and do it on a night where the energy just wasn’t there, and they had a lot of momentum, they were hitting shots and playing some of the best basketball I’ve seen with their scoring – that’s what it’s all about. Especially going into the playoffs to be able to experience that now and get a rhythm.”
Pacers trade-deadline acquisition Tyrese Haliburton was a nightmare for Boston, as he erupted for 30 points on 10-of-11 shooting from the field, including perfect clips of 6-for-6 from 3-point range and 4-for-4 from the free-throw line. However, he also fouled out with more than eight minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, which allowed the Celtics to escape without suffering any further damage from him.
Meanwhile, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum dealt some significant damage of their own, as they poured in 32 points and 31 points, respectively, while both delivering several key baskets down the stretch. On top of their scoring, they also made plays for others, as Brown dished out a team-high seven assists, followed closely by Tatum with six dimes.
However, their defense struggled without their leading shot-contester Rob Williams, who is out for the next four to six weeks as he recovers from left knee surgery. For the Celtics, who have now played three straight games without Williams, they will have to continue to find ways to fill his void as they prepare to enter the first round of the playoffs without him.
“We did get a little caught up with the fact that Rob was back there, and he cleaned up a lot of mistakes for us,” said Smart. “With him out, we’ve got to change just a little bit. Everybody else has to give a little bit more from what they were because of that and it’s just part of the game. We still have everybody else defensively that’s been doing great on defense and will continue to do that with or without Rob. But obviously while he’s doing his recovery we’ve got to hold it down for him.”
The Celtics held it down just enough on this occasion, as they led from start to finish despite never really pulling away. It was their second straight game that came down to the wire after also battling with the Heat Wednesday night. However, the result was an improvement from their 106-98 loss to Miami.
“Like I said last game, there’s gonna be tight games, close games that we need to experience and go through,” said head coach Ime Udoka. “As much as we'd like to play better defensively and be sharper in a lot of areas to avoid those situations, there are some benefits.”
The playoffs are bound to consist of tight, physical battles against formidable opponents, which makes these last two games, as ugly as they may have been, all the more important for Boston’s postseason preparation.
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