Before the Celtics hit a 21st-century franchise scoring low in the first half of an 87-74 loss to Indiana last night, coach Doc Rivers described the Pacers “like watching a younger version of us - that’s scary.’’
The Pacers’ 20-somethings were indeed younger than the Celtics’ starters. They were also hungrier, aggressively going to the offensive boards, and, thanks to the direction of point guard Darren Collison, in better synchronization at key points.
The result was an end to the Celtics’ four-game winning streak in a game with a competitive level resembling a preseason contest.
Indiana had a 33-25 lead after two quarters, the Celtics tying a team record for fewest points in a half. The last time the Celtics had a 25-point half was in a 99-83 loss at Milwaukee on March 18, 1999. The only other time they experienced a 25-point first half was in a 75-67 win over Cleveland on Feb. 8, 1995.
“Both teams set offense back about 50 years,’’ Rivers said. “It was awful to watch.’’
Part of the reason was thought to be the lack of preparation due to the lockout.
The Celtics will have two practice sessions before next Wednesday’s contest against Dallas, and Kevin Garnett hopes the team will use the days to make up for lost time.
“This is a great platform to learn from, though,’’ Garnett said. “Early on in the year like this - teaching points for these days coming up for practice. And, hopefully, we can apply them for the next game.
“Good days of preparation, I think it’s coming at the right time. Practice makes perfect and we’re going to exercise. We’re looking forward to the days, actually, because there hasn’t been a lot of practice time. These are work days for us.’’
The Celtics’ offense stagnated in the opening half, then showed signs of jump-starting early in the second half.
Paul Pierce’s 3-pointer cut the deficit to 47-45 with 4:51 remaining in the third quarter, but that would be Pierce’s final field goal on a 3-for-17 shooting night.
Indiana’s Darren Collison then set the tone, hitting three jumpers and assisting on a Danny Granger 3-pointer over a 2:27 span.
Collison took a break and George Hill took over at the start of the final quarter, with a second-chance jumper and two 3-pointers in the opening 3:39.
The Celtics’ offense failed to click, with Rajon Rondo and Jermaine O’Neal failing to connect on entry passes, and Brandon Bass missing open jumpers as the Pacers effectively took Ray Allen out of the flow.
Allen (7 for 11 shooting, 23 points) did not score from the field after sinking a 3-pointer with 10:48 remaining. Allen’s foul shot cut the deficit to 77-70 with 4:04 left, but the Celtics then failed to convert on two possessions.
Rondo missed two free throws and Granger hit two foul shots off a Collison feed in transition off a Pierce turnover for a 9-point advantage with 3:39 remaining.
After a Bass miss, Collison sank a 3-pointer with two seconds left on the shot clock for an 82-70 lead with 1:32 to go.
“Just felt like, at first, we didn’t have any rhythm,’’ said Garnett (12 points, 6 rebounds). “We usually have a decent offensive flow. I thought for the most part, defensively, we were pretty sound. Third quarter, they got away from us a little bit. We got a better offensive rhythm and then they pulled away and we didn’t make a decent run.
“We just didn’t have a flow out there, they were a lot more aggressive, they set the tone, they hit first. And that’s pretty much the game.’’
The Pacers’ ability to work the offensive boards - outrebounding the Celtics on the offensive glass, 14-7, and 47-36 overall - limited the Celtics’ transition game.
“The onus is always on the bigs to rebound,’’ Garnett said. “Rajon has been known to get 10-11 rebounds, so it’s on the team, but it starts with the bigs - myself included. We have to do a better job. I know I have to.
“I think everyone at one point wanted to see if he could rejuvenate the team, restart the team, or ignite the team, or whatever you want to call it - versus doing it together. That’s just every guy having some pride and trying to see himself as it. We usually make a good run, comebacks, when we do it together.
“So, like I said, this is a good learning tool and we’re going to use it and be better prepared for the next game.’’