After two comfortable victories to open the season, the Pacers faced considerably more drama on Sunday night.
But in the end, the result was the same. Domantas Sabonis scored the game-winning basket in the closing seconds to lift Indiana (3-0) to a 108-107 win over the Boston Celtics (1-2) at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
"They were fighting the entire game," Pacers head coach Nate Bjorkgren said after the win. "This is a group that really plays hard for each other no matter who's out there on the floor.
"It was a very physical game, a lot of bumping both ways, and I thought our guys handled it quite nicely."
The Pacers led 105-103 in the final minute when Jayson Tatum missed an open look on the right wing for a go-ahead 3-pointer.
On the other end, Sabonis drew a foul on Jeff Teague and made the first but missed the second. Tatum was fouled on the other end and made both free throws to make it a one-point game with 18.2 seconds remaining.
After a timeout, the Pacers inbounded to T.J. Warren near midcourt, but Robert Williams III stripped him and Marcus Smart raced to the other end for the go-ahead basket with 11.8 seconds remaining.
After another timeout, the Pacers this time inbounded to Sabonis, who drove left, scored, and drew a foul with 8.4 seconds to play.
"We've been practicing that play in training camp," Sabonis said after the game. "Coach trusts me with the ball in my hands with the last possession. It's awesome having that feeling."
But he missed the subsequent free throw, giving the Celtics one last chance to win the game.
Tatum took a stepback three as the buzzer sounded, but couldn't get it to fall, as Indiana survived for its third straight victory.
Malcolm Brogdon led six Pacers in double figures in the win, finishing with 25 points, five rebounds, and five assists. Sabonis added 19 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists while recording his third straight double-double to open the year.
The Pacers missed seven of their first eight shots, while Boston started the night hot, converting six of its first seven attempts. That all added up to an early 15-4 lead for the Celtics.
Brogdon and Warren combined for all of Indiana's points during a subsequent 10-2 run to climb back into the game, but Boston still took a 23-19 advantage into the second quarter.
It took the Blue & Gold less than two minutes in the second quarter to take their first lead of the night. The frame featured six lead changes and three ties. Doug McDermott scored eight points in the period, but the Celtics used a late 10-2 run to surge ahead and take a 55-49 lead into the break.
But just as they did in their first two wins over New York and Chicago, the Pacers played inspired basketball coming out of halftime. Indiana reeled off 12 unanswered points to open the third quarter, the start of what proved to be a 21-5 run to open up an eight-point advantage.
The Pacers scored 39 points in the third quarter on 15-of-20 shooting, with Brogdon tallying 12 points and three assists in the frame, as the hosts took an 88-83 lead into the fourth quarter.
Boston tied the game at 96 with 6:19 to play after Tristan Thompson's hook shot capped an 8-0 Celtics run. After a timeout, the Pacers went to Sabonis in the post, and their All-Star big man delivered back-to-back baskets to put Indiana back in front.
The Celtics again tied the game on a Robert Williams III dunk with 4:02 remaining, but this time it was Brogdon who answered, knocking down a deep three on the other end.
Boston responded once more, using a Grant Williams free throw and Tatum jumper to tie the game at 103. On the ensuing possession, Brogdon missed a 3-point attempt, but Myles Turner found himself all alone under the basket for the go-ahead putback with 2:17 to play.
Neither team scored again until the final minute, setting the stage for a dramatic finish.
After the victory, Brogdon had high praise for Bjorkgren's quick impact in his first few games in Indiana.
"I think we've got great coaching," Brogdon said. "We've got a coach that motivates us, a coach that's great with X's and O's, and coach that stays calm in high-pressure situations. We feed off him in every aspect of the game."
Warren finished with 17 points on 8-of-14 shooting for Indiana. McDermott added 16 points off the bench, Justin Holiday chipped in 13, and Turner tallied 10 points, seven rebounds, and five blocks.
Tatum led the Celtics with 25 points, 11 rebounds, and five assists in the loss. Brown added 18 points on 8-of-13 shooting.
Two-time All-Star Victor Oladipo was inactive for Indiana on Sunday due to injury management on his surgically repaired right knee. Oladipo has not played both nights of a back-to-back since returning to action in January.
Boston won't have to wait long for a rematch, as the Pacers and Celtics will meet again at The Fieldhouse on Tuesday night.
Inside the Numbers
Brogdon topped 20 points for the second time in three games. He also has dished out five or more assists in all three contests to open the season.
Sabonis scored nine of his 19 points in the fourth quarter. He has three straight double-doubles to open the season after setting the NBA franchise record with 50 last season.
McDermott has scored in double figures off the bench in all three games this season. Though the sharpshooter is just 5-for-17 from 3-point range, he is 11-for-15 from inside the arc to start the season.
Indiana outscored Boston 60-42 in points in the paint on Sunday.
The Pacers were outrebounded for the first time this season, narrowly losing the battle of the boards 40-37, though they did collect eight offensive rebounds to the Celtics' six.
You Can Quote Me On That
"The guys get to regroup a little bit. It's a good little breather for them as well (to) get their focus back. And they come out of the locker room with a purpose. They're very assertive and aggressive. They want to be aggressive on both ends to start the second half and it starts with their defense." -Bjorkgren on the Pacers' success in the third quarter
"I think we're usually not happy at halftime with our performance no matter if we're up or down. We know we can do better and we just come out in that third quarter and try to get back to ourselves." -Sabonis on the Pacers' halftime adjustments
"He has a really good beat on a lot of the top players in the league. Jayson Tatum is one of them. Guarding him down the stretch, Coach gave me a lot of keys to pay attention to to really make it uncomfortable for him." -Brogdon on Bjorkgren's knowledge of the Celtics
"It's the pace at which he plays on the offensive end. He comes flying out of those corners...If they're trailing him, he can turn that corner with his size and finish at the rim." -Bjorkgren on McDermott's strong start to the season
"I've really worked hard this offseason and in practice on just really trying to finish through contact and get to the rim if I don't have a three." -McDermott
"You've got to rely on each other, rely on your teammates and really stay focused. This game is all about who can lock in, who can pay attention to the details at the end of games, who can execute what their coach is asking them to do the best. Whether or not you have fans, you've got to be able to do that at a high level." -Brogdon on playing a close game without fans
Stat of the Night
The Pacers scored a season-high 39 points in the third quarter on Sunday to turn a six-point halftime deficit into a five-point lead.
- The Celtics had won in six of their last eight visits to Bankers Life Fieldhouse prior to Sunday.
- Reserve guard Edmond Sumner missed his second straight game due to illness.
- Boston was without All-Star guard Kemba Walker, who has yet to play this season due to a knee injury.
The Pacers and Celtics meet again on Tuesday, Dec. 29 at 7:00 PM ET.