INDIANAPOLIS — It was déjà vu for the Celtics. Jayson Tatum had a chance to help the Celtics steal a win Sunday in a game they played poorly throughout and then he bails out his defender by settling for a low percentage, step-back 3-pointer.
That shot luckily banked in last week against the Milwaukee Bucks, but this one rimmed out, and the Celtics lost for a second consecutive time, begging the question, did they learn anything from the Miami series?
Tatum settled for that jumper in Game 1 of that series, also, instead of attacking the rim. He received the inbounds pass from Marcus Smart with under 8 seconds left and was content to dribble out the final ticks until releasing a long jumper.
“Nah, that was on me, I should have put more pressure on the defense,” Tatum said. “I’ll take full blame. I didn’t play nearly as well as I needed to or I’m capable of and people expect of me. I’ll take that on the chin.”
The 108-107 loss was frustrating for several reasons. The Celtics wasted a 6-point halftime lead in a matter of seconds, allowing the Pacers to score at will in the third period. They rallied to take a brief lead with 11.8 seconds left after a Robert Williams’s steal led to a Smart layup. But then the Celtics allowed Domantas Sabonis to score a layup at the rim a few seconds later.
Tatum tried again to be the hero but the missed 3-pointer capped off a difficult night. He scored 25 points with 11 rebounds but committed five turnovers and was 2-for-7 shooting in the final period.
The Celtics shot 50.6 percent but committed 18 turnovers and were poor on defense in the second and third periods, allowing the Pacers to shoot 67.5 percent and score 69 points. Indiana scored 39 in the first and fourth quarters.
“We definitely beat ourselves,” forward Jaylen Brown said. “We still [had] ourselves an opportunity to win the game and we’ve just [have] to come back the next game and be better, be better with the ball, be more physical, be more sound on defense.”
Other observations from Sunday’s loss:
⋅ Once again, the Celtics got punched in the mouth to begin the third quarter, as the Pacers raced out to a 12-0 run. Finally, Brad Stevens called a timeout after four Pacers raced down the floor for a layup against one Celtic. Poor third quarters have been issues for a few years and the Celtics began this one getting outscored, 16-2, changing the entire tone of the game.
⋅ The Celtics especially had trouble with Indiana guard Malcolm Brogdon, who scored 25 points, many of those on midrange jumpers where the Celtics defense allowed him ample shooting space. Finally with 3:38 left, Brodgon stepped into an uncontested 26-footer to give the Pacers a 103-100 lead. The way he was shooting previously, it was a defensive miscue that he was given so much space.
⋅ The Pacers attacked the Celtics in the middle and that’s why they won the game. Indiana shot 61.1 percent on 2-point shots and outscored Boston, 60-42, in the paint. Sabonis punished the Celtics in stretches but Boston also allowed 3-point specialist Doug McDermott to beat defenders off the dribble and the Pacers scored 23 fastbreak points, mostly off turnovers.
⋅ Payton Pritchard is earning minutes and the trust of his teammates. In a 34-second span, the rookie from Oregon swished two 3-pointers on passes from Tatum and Smart, respectively. For years, the Celtics have been seeking a guard who could consistently hit threes when open. With Tatum and Brown on the floor, Pritchard is going to get his share of open looks. Pritchard entered Sunday 2 for 4 from the 3-point line and added those pair in the first half. He finished with 13 points in 23 minutes.
⋅ Smart landed hard on his shoulder in a collision with Brogdon in the fourth quarter and briefly left the game. But he returned for the critical moments of the fourth quarter, helping Williams get that steal on T.J. Warren and then scoring the go-ahead hoop.
⋅ It may be several weeks before his return, but Kemba Walker is on this trip, which is a good sign. Players who generally have a long way to recover from injury don’t travel with the team. But Walker was on the floor at Bankers Life Fieldhouse about 30 minutes before tipoff shooting 3-pointers and working on his free throws.
⋅ The atmosphere at Bankers Life Fieldhouse was typical of an NBA arena that can’t house fans. But the Pacers’ band was in its usual spot and gave their team applause after good plays. The drumline sits between the first and second levels and the band can be clearly heard with approximately 250 people in a 19,000-seat venue.
⋅ Williams returned from a one-game absence with a non-COVID illness and gave the Celtics good minutes, despite that defensive miscue that allowed Sabonis to score the winning basket.. He finished with 12 points, 4 rebounds, 4 steals and 2 blocked shots. Stevens said he played Williams so many times because “I thought he was our best big tonight.”
⋅ Grant Williams continues to struggle offensively. He finished 2 for 4 from the field, including a key third quarter 3-pointer but he also missed three of his four free throws. Jeff Teague has now missed all of his 11 shot attempts over the past two games but reached the free throw line 10 times, hitting 9.