Coming off a 111-107 loss to the Golden State Warriors, the Indiana Pacers sought to bounce back against the Boston Celtics. Instead, they were out-executed in the clutch in back-to-back games and lost this matchup with 118-112 being the final score.
It's difficult to envision the Pacers being capable of putting together a stronger start to a game than they did in this one. Using a quick 9 points from Myles Turner, Indiana jumped out to an early 18-4 lead. The ball was moving very well with skip passes being made for corner three's and Turner being involved as a rim-runner.
The momentum changed after the Celtics called timeout with 7:02 left in the opening period. Kemba Walker led Boston on a 15-2 run by scoring 10 of Boston's points during that stretch. He converted on a pair of pull-up three's and got downhill to get to the free throw line and for spray outs.
"Kemba Walker is one of their best players. We knew that coming in. We knew he was going to make a couple of those threes off the screen," Sabonis said. "We had to meet high. Obviously, we didn't want him to go off that much."
Neither team managed to create separation for the remainder of the first quarter and the Celtics led 32-31 at this point. This carried over throughout the rest of the opening half as both teams put up the same 29 points in the second quarter.
There were multiple points towards the end of the second period when the Celtics held a five-point lead and that was the largest edge either team held during this stretch. Walker and Jeff Teague continued to lead Boston's offense and combined for 15 points in the second frame -- helping the team stay ahead 61-60 at halftime.
The Celtics put together the best single-quarter performance of either team during the third period. Boston came out of the gate hot after halftime and pulled off a 16-7 run -- prompting the Pacers to call timeout at the 7:07 mark of the period.
Indiana played from behind for the rest of the third quarter after struggling routinely to get stops defensively. The Pacers' offense became quite stagnant and wasn't converting from deep. They were limited to just 24 points on 8-of-22 (36.4%) from the floor and 3-of-11 (27.3%) from deep.
Boston held a 92-84 lead entering the final period but the Pacers' bench personnel plus Myles Turner managed to make some progress in reducing the Celtics' advantage. Indiana outscored the opposition 17-12 up until the 6:00 mark and that made the score 104-101.
Jayson Tatum was able to convert on a floater to extend the Celtics' lead to five and prompt the Pacers to call timeout. Indiana changed up their personnel by swapping out Turner and Edmond Sumner for Domantas Sabonis and Malcolm Brogdon, both of whom are downgrades defensively.
The Celtics took advantage of having more favorable matchups and scored four quick unanswered points to take a 110-101 lead with 3:47 left to play. Walker was able to get into the paint for a drive-and-dish to Daniel Theis and for a finish of his own. The Pacers decided to bring Turner back into the game as a result.
Indiana began to chip away at the Celtics' lead over the next few possessions by getting to the free throw line. After a finish from Domantas Sabonis in the paint with 1:23 remaining on the game clock, the Pacers trailed just 112-109.
The inability to contain Walker continued to hurt the Pacers as he got into the lane and connected with Theis for a spray out three-pointer from the weak-side corner. Boston led 115-109 with 36.4 seconds left but the Pacers answered back with a Sabonis three-pointer with 25.7 seconds remaining.
With a legitimate chance to still win this game, the Pacers just needed to get a stop defensively and produce points on the other end. Indiana tried to run a full-court trap but the Celtics broke it -- causing the Pacers to have to foul. That essentially put an end to the game with Walker converting on a pair of free throws.
Facing a five-point deficit with just 11.6 seconds remaining, the Pacers came up empty on their next offensive possession as Turner failed to convert from deep. Boston went to the free throw line one last time and Robert Williams III split the attempts.
"We just have to keep grinding it," Pacers coach Nate Bjorkgren said. "Keep playing hard. I think we had a shot — a corner three to tie it. It didn't go down."
Indiana did a lot of things well in this game between containing Jayson Tatum to just 9 points on 4-of-18 (22.2%) from the field. Even Jaylen Brown struggled with 15 points on 5-of-12 (41.7%) overall and 4 turnovers. Typically, being able to neutralize even one of those players goes a long way in defeating the Celtics.
Instead, Kemba Walker answered the call for the Celtics and played the role of superstar. He finished with a game-high 32 points and 6 assists. He has struggled to find a rhythm this season after returning from a knee injury. He's looked better as of late but hasn't been better than he was against the Pacers as he recorded his first 30-point performance of the season.
Similar to their matchup against the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday, the Pacers just do not have an elite player that can lead an offense. They lack an elite scorer and particularly do not have much for shot creation out on the perimeter with this being a real weakness for Malcolm Brogdon. Taking on top teams is a real challenge as a result.
The Pacers will return to action on Saturday when they take on the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden to complete a back-to-back.